Plans approved to remove material from Rhondda coal tip over landslide fears
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
Plans to remove material from a Rhondda coal tip where a landslide happened during Storm Dennis two years ago have been approved but there remains concern about drainage and water retention.
The application, which includes moving colliery material from the Llanwonno Upper Tip to a site adjacent to Tylorstown Tip was given the go ahead by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s planning committee on Thursday, October 20.
Planning officers say it will “significantly reduce” the likelihood of a landslip that “could have a devastating effect on the surrounding area”.
The site area covers an area of approximately 30 hectares (74 acres) and the proposal, which is phase four of the overall works, involves the removal of about 195,000 cubic metres of material that remains within the Llanwonno Upper Tip.
It will also see the re-profiling of the upper tip with approximately 35,000 cubic metres being used to “smooth-out” the current landscape “bowl”, as well as drainage and landscaping works.
It will also see the widening of the disused tramway to allow access for trucks to transport approximately 160,000 cubic metres of material to a nearby receptor site, and the re-profiling, drainage and landscaping of the site where the material will be taken.
The planning report said that in February 2020, Storm Dennis caused the Llanwonno Upper Tip to fail near the village of Tylorstown, which resulted in a large landslip, followed by a smaller, secondary one.
The landslip resulted in about 60,000 cubic metres of colliery tip material sliding down the hillside.
About half of it filled the valley floor and the Afon Rhondda Fach channel, diverting its course.
The diverted river began eroding the western bank, creating a five metre-high unstable face which threatened to “undermine” the Rhondda Fach Leisure Centre overflow car park adjacent to the top of the bank.
The slipped material also damaged and breached a main sewer beneath the leisure centre, felled numerous trees and covered a water main below the former railway line, which is used as a “leisure route”.
Emergency works were undertaken to address the threats and damage from the landslip and the planning committee has already approved planning applications on phases one, two and three for the temporary storage of the slipped material.
A further application will be submitted shortly which will propose the final contouring, landscaping and after-use of that site.
It is expected that the project, from start to finish, will take approximately six months to complete between spring and autumn 2023.
In recommending approval, council planning officers said in the planning report: “The removal of the tip will significantly reduce the likelihood of a
landslip that could have a devastating effect on the surrounding area.
“The resulting landform, while impacting on a local landmark, is acceptable and will not have any significant impact on the landscape quality or amenity of the area.”
After the material is deposited, the scheme will rely on a natural regeneration process which is being trialled as part of this scheme.
Additional permanent drainage works will be required to ensure that the reformed hillside will remain stable.
No response objecting to or supporting the application was received as part of the public consultation on the plans.
Councillor Robert Bevan, who represents Tylorstown and Ynyshir on the council, raised concern about the surface water drainage at the proposed site, the maintenance of the ponds and what would happen if they fail to retain water and the impact this would have on the existing tip.
He said he has reservations about it and having worked in the mining industry he’s fully aware of tip issues and the issue of water retention on tips.
He said: “Whilst the proposal obviously addresses the current problem, the serious concern is about the legacy for the future and indeed the maintenance of water drainage and indeed the maintenance of the tip should any issues arise.
He added: “There are very very serious concerns about the long term implications of depositing this waste from the side of the mountain to the top of the mountain.”
The planning officer said the drainage of the site will be subject of a separate approval so there’s another level of checking in the process.
Planning committee member Councillor Jayne Smith echoed concerns about water retention and drainage.
Fellow committee member Councillor Danny Grehan said generally he wouldn’t agree that it’s a good idea to move material from one area and just put it somewhere else on top of a mountain.
He said he feels if Tylorstown tip were ever to fall then this tip could possibly be part of it and he’s worried about this but on the other hand they need somewhere for it to go and at the moment it’s possibly the best place for it.
He shared the concerns about the water drainage especially if the systems that are put in place aren’t maintained and looked after properly.
Another committee member Councillor Gareth Hughes said he understood the local councillors expressing concern but given the investment of the council following Storm Dennis and the new coal tip safety officers he’s sure this is something they’ll continue to monitor and that this seems the best place at this time to ensure the immediate safety and ensure that there isn’t a repeat of what happened in Storm Dennis.
Councillor Ross Williams, also a member of the planning committee, said it is a tricky one and he understands the emotive side for local members but he doesn’t think they can sit back and do nothing.
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What an obscenity it is to have coal tips that pose a danger to our citizens in the 21st century, particularly considering the vast wealth generated in Cymru by the coal industries.