Proposal to set up a new body to supervise the management of old coal tips welcomed
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
A Valleys council leader has welcomed proposals to set up a new body to supervise the management of old coal tips.
Rhondda Cynon Taf Council leader Councillor Andrew Morgan responded to the proposals announced this week by the Law Commission for England and Wales.
They suggest a single supervisory authority with a duty to supervise the management of all disused tips, which is able to monitor all disused tips and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements to a consistent standard across Wales.
They also suggest a coal tips register, compiled and maintained by the supervisory authority which would include a wide range of information including potential risks associated with each disused tip.
Also included are inspections of each tip for the purpose of a risk assessment and designing a tip management plan. The inspection could potentially cover all potential risks including the risk of tip slides but also flooding, pollution and any other risks.
And for those coal tips designated as high risk, they propose an enhanced safety regime with increased involvement of the supervisory authority to manage the tip and reduce the chance of significant dangerous incidents occurring.
The Law Commission will be consulting on these proposals until September 10, 2021.
Following the consultation period, it will analyse the responses and develop final recommendations for the Welsh Government with the aim to publish a final report in early 2022.
The Law Commission said there are currently a tiny number of tips associated with operational coal mines, but more than 2,000 disused coal tips and that without careful management, these tips can present a number of risk including instability and coal tip slides, flooding, pollution and spontaneous combustion.
The Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969 was enacted following an investigation into the Aberfan disaster of 1966.
The Law Commission has identified a number of issues with the current law including that the powers created by the Act are fragmented across local authorities, leading to inconsistent safety standards and risk classifications.
They also said there is no mechanism to prioritise the highest risk coal tips to ensure they are managed as a matter of urgency.
They added that there is no general duty to ensure the safety of coal tips and local authorities have no power to intervene until there are concerns that a tip is unstable and they said that there is no power to undertake preventive maintenance before a tip becomes a danger.
Responding to the proposals, Councillor Andrew Morgan, leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council said: “Coal tips continue to scar the landscape of the South Wales Valleys and are a remaining consequence of our industrial past.
“The impact of severe weather over recent years has highlighted the ongoing problem and risk that they pose.
“We continue to work with Welsh Government and the Coal Authority, as part of the task force, to ensure we can take action on this legacy, providing additional reassurance for residents and protection for the future well-being of these communities.
“I wholeheartedly would welcome plans to establish a supervisory authority with responsibility for the safety of all disused coal tips; this would support the multi-agency approach already being taken between local government in Wales, Welsh Government ministers and the UK Government.
“As an example, the register of coal-tips is already something being progressed through this partnership approach.
“Most importantly, funding provided centrally by the UK government, is the only way to resolve this legacy issue which dates back to the decisions of the National Coal Board and former UK ministers in a sustainable way.”
Merthyr Tydfil Council was contacted for comment.