Phil Bennett pre-match speech inspires Carmarthenshire councillor’s criticism of opencast mine company
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
A robust pre-match speech by Wales and Llanelli rugby legend Phil Bennett was used by a Carmarthenshire councillor to criticise a company which ran a former opencast mine.
Cllr Dai Thomas referenced the fly-half’s infamous talk ahead of a clash against arch-rivals England in 1977, which claimed in colourful terms that the English had taken plenty from Wales but given “absolutely nothing” back.
Cllr Thomas was referring to coal company Celtic Energy, which has been embroiled in a lengthy dispute with the authorities about the reinstatement of roads and public access at the former Gilfach Iago opencast site, between Ammanford and Cross Hands.
“Here we have a Welsh company which has promised the earth and given nothing,” he said.
A recommendation was put forward for the council and Celtic Energy to split the cost of reinstating public access across the Gilfach Iago site in order to resolve a 20-year saga.
Councillors voted to approve the plan, which will require a £130,000 council contribution on top of the £320,000 offered by Caerphilly-based Celtic Energy.
Cllr Thomas said communities affected by the 134-hectare opencast mine, which operated between 1988 and 1998, had been “devastated”.
Celtic Energy took ownership of the site in 1994, and has largely restored its previous physical profile.
All but one of the old roads and paths which crossed it were meant to be reinstated by Celtic Energy but the work didn’t take place.
The matter got bogged down in legal and planning issues, which was complicated by Celtic Energy splitting the land into 17 lots and selling 16 of them.
Cllr Thomas, whose Pen-y-Groes ward was affected by the opencast mine, said the solution being put forward was “the best we can hope for”.
Cllr Carl Harris said residents in the area took the view that they would believe it when they saw it when it came to reinstating public access. He said he couldn’t blame them.
Cllr Alun Lenny said it was “a disgrace” that the UK Government had not insisted on a restoration bond being put in place for Gilfach Iago at the outset.
He also recalled filming the site in the 1980s before the excavation machines moved in. “It was streams, trees and fields,” said Cllr Lenny.
Cllr Rob James said he supported a lot of the comments, and wanted assurances that Celtic Energy would indeed pay the £320,000.
Cllr Hazel Evans, cabinet member for the environment, said the council had to take the company’s word for it. She said the former opencast mine had nine footpaths but that all were dead-ends. New bridleways will be created.
She added that replacement roads were no longer needed because a new stretch had been created and improvements had been made to existing roads nearby.
Cllr Dai Nicholas said it was important that the communities around Gilfach Iago, and visitors, got as much out of it as possible. “The area is returning to its natural beauty,” he said.
A spokesman for Celtic Energy said: “Celtic Energy is pleased that a satisfactory conclusion to the outstanding issues on this site, which was inherited from British Coal in 1994, has finally been reached.”
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