Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
Residents fear their homes could be flooded if their local council approves plans to build 200 homes on land which contains two mine shafts.
Locals say they are strongly opposed to plans to build hundreds of homes in Bryncoch, Neath as they fear it could cause flooding similar to recent events in Skewen.
Gaynor Cook, who lives close to the development site, said she is “totally against” the plans.
“We’re all strongly opposed to it around here. We’re really concerned about what will happen to the drainage if they start digging around.”
The Neath-based company Hale Construction wants to build a mix of family homes on greenfield land off Leiros Park, Neath, which contains and is surrounded by coal mines.
Residents are concerned the development could cause flooding in the locality, with recent events in nearby village Skewen amplifying their fears.
A blowout from disused mine workings caused flooding in Skewen and 80 residents were evacuated from their homes on Thursday January 21.
The Coal Authority, which owns the affected mines, is investigating the cause of the flooding while some residents will have to wait six months before they can safely return home.
Hale Construction submitted a full planning application to the Neath Port Talbot (NPT) Council’s planning department in November 2020.
A consultation on the plans has now ended and council officers are putting together a report on the proposed development that will be considered by the planning committee.
The 11-hectare plot, at Leiros Park, Bryncoch, is already allocated for housing in the council’s local development plan.
Leiros Park housing estate is located south and south west of the proposed develpoment site and Gilfach Quarry is situated north.
A site investigation report published by Terra Firma in 2017 revealed there are two mine shafts located within the development site; one at the centre of and another at the far west of the site.
The report reads: “Historical maps provide strong evidence that the area surrounding the site has been heavily mined for coal.”
It also states an “unknown structure” was found within the southern region of the site near to the agricultural buildings, which cannot be discounted as a possible shaft and there are eight other mine entries surrounding the site boundary.
However, the report reads: “The site does not lie in an area prone to flooding or extreme flooding from rivers or sea without defence.”
Mrs Cook, who lives on Alexander Road, not far from the proposed development site, said local residents are opposed to the plans because they “haven’t got solid foundations”.
“We don’t want our own foundations to be undermined by it all. I’ll be the first one in front of the bulldozer.”
Shirley Evans, who also lives locally in Leiros Park, said she used to play on the proposed development site when she lived on Alexander Road as a child.
“When I lived in Alexander Road, our house was built with open space of approximately three foot below floor level.
“This was to accommodate water run off from the mountain or so I was told, and now they want to build houses there. It’s absolutely nuts.”
She added: “Mines and water runoff from fields are not a good combination. We have seen the outcome of this in Skewen recently.”
Mrs Evans said if the development is approved, the levels of traffic in the area would be “ridiculous”.
“If another 200 houses are built that means at least another 200 cars. Pen y Wern at peak times is choc a block as it is.
“The roads cannot sustain more traffic due to college and Dwr y Felin school.”
She is also concerned by the fact there are levels of arsenic in the land where the homes are proposed to be built.
Terra Firma’s report states it is possible there could be “elevated levels of arsenic and lead” in the near-surface soil of the development site due to metal smelting, which historically took place in the Neath area.
“All substances tested for were found to be present at concentrations below their respective human health threshold levels apart from ten samples of arsenic in the natural, near-surface soil,” the report reads.
The report recommends that “remedial measures” should be taken in light of the soils which cover the whole site.
Mrs Cook said it would be “devastating” if the development is approved and local wildlife would be “disturbed” by construction.
“All the countryside up here is beautiful, I played here as a child and my own children and then my grandchildren have played here since.
“Instead of looking at lovely greed fields I’d be looking at a housing estate.”
Bryncoch resident Alun Evans said he is “deeply opposed” to the plans.
“The area has multiple badger sets, there are red kites around there and it remains one of the few green areas that side off the valley.
“I work in a school in Cimla and when you look across the valley those fields are the first thing you see and the residents of Cimla would also miss that view.
“I’ve run up around there for over 30 years and regularly see foxes and badgers up and around there it’s literally teeming with wildlife.
“There are enough brownfield sites in and around Neath, so why can’t they build on those if there’s a housing shortage. Why build on greenfield sites?”
A 2016 report by Archaeology Wales states it is “unlikely” the development would have a “significant” impact on foraging bats and badgers, breeding birds, and reptiles “due to the retained and newly created habitats offsetting any initial habitat loss”.
A report by Arboricultural Technician Services states the development “can be constructed without any significant long-term adverse impact onto the retained trees or the amenity of the area”.
Mrs Evans and Mrs Cook also think there would not be adequate school provision in the area if another 200 homes are built.
Mrs Cook said her grandchildren who live nearby were unable to attend their closest school in the area because it is “oversubscribed and full”.
Mrs Evans said the timing of Hale Construction’s application has made it difficult for some residents to express their opposition to the plans.
“I do feel that they have been a little sneaky this time around applying during a pandemic knowing that public meetings cannot take place for people to voice their opinions and objections.
“We can’t all rally around like we have done in the past because they used to have meetings in the local community centre. But you can’t do that now can you.”
Hale Construction were asked to comment, but had not responded at time of going to press.
A spokesperson for NPT Council said “residents’ concerns and views on the application will be taken fully into account”.
They added: “Despite the restrictions for public health reasons due to Covid, residents have been kept informed and the application was subject to public consultation in the form of individual neighbour letters, site notices and a notice in the local press.
“Although civic centres are closed to the public, for those without internet access computer facilities are available at local libraries (subject to booking).
“Alternatively, officers in the planning team, while working remotely, are available and continue to provide a service to the public where assistance is required.”
Details of the plan can be found on NPT Council’s website under the reference: P2020/1020.