Residents in shadow of open cast mine appeal for restoration of site
Residents living in the shadow of Ffos y Fran opencast coal mine have made an urgent appeal to Merthyr Council and Welsh Government to ensure the owner restores the site and makes it safe for the local community.
Merthyr (South Wales) Limited, the owner of Ffos y Fran has announced that they intend to stop mining today (30 November 2023), but campaigners are concerned that even if the company does stop extracting coal, they will leave without restoring the site, as promised.
Two decade campaign
Chris and Alyson Austin from Merthyr Friends of the Earth, who live close to the mine, have been campaigning to stop it for the last two decades.
Alyson said, “We don’t want them to just leave. We want them to restore the site! The company was given permission to mine here on the condition that the site was fully restored afterwards and handed back to the community.”
She added: “The sign at the entrance says ‘Ffos y Fran Land Reclamation Scheme.’ The ‘reclamation’ promised meant returning the land to a better, usable state, not leaving us with a huge, horrible mess. It must be restored, otherwise it will be an ugly, dangerous place, rather than an amenity we can enjoy!”
Chris added: “It makes my blood boil. We’re told the company can’t afford to restore the site, that over the years they’ve failed to put money aside for this, as they were contractually obligated to do. They have made huge amounts of money over the years from the coal mining; where has it all gone?”
He asked: “What message does this send out? That you can do business, make money, and not honour your obligations to the detriment of local people. That you can continue to work against the direct instructions of the local authority and our elected representatives with seeming impunity? It sets a terrible precedent.”
Haf Elgar, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, agreed, saying: “It’s disgraceful that coal mining has been allowed to continue unlawfully at Ffos y Fran for so long, against the wishes of the local community, the unanimous vote of councillors, and to the detriment of the planet.”
She added: “We hope that the mining will now stop and that will be the end of opencast mining in Wales. But this does not feel like a day to celebrate – workers are being made redundant rather than kept on to restore the site and supported to find other roles, and the whole process has been such a farce that there is no certainty what will happen next.
Ffos y Fran is the largest opencast in the UK. The community’s hopes were raised when planning permission to extract coal from the site expired in September 2022. But relief rapidly gave way to dread and frustration when the company applied to Merthyr Council to extend this permission, and continued to mine coal, without permission, whilst awaiting the outcome.
On 26 April 2023 Merthyr Councillors decided unanimously to reject their application to continue mining, a cause for celebration for the campaigners and residents who had gathered with placards and banners outside the council offices. However, despite this decision, truckloads and trainloads of coal were seen leaving the site on a regular basis.
In May 2023 Merthyr Council issued an enforcement notice, but it had no effect and Merthyr Limited continued to extract coal from the site.
On 28 June the company appealed Merthyr Council’s enforcement order, lodging an appeal with Welsh ministers.
The Coal Authority wrote to the company in July, because they were mining coal beyond their licensed boundary, ordering them to ‘cease all extraction of coal outside of the licence area with immediate effect and inform the Authority that this has taken place.’
Merthyr (South Wales) Limited announced in August that they would stop mining on 30 November and close the site.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Welsh Ministers cannot comment on individual cases as the Welsh Government has a formal role in determining planning enforcement appeals.”
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