Rhondda Cynon Taf to establish coal tip safety management team
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
Rhondda Cynon Taf council is to consider proposals to set up its own team to manage former coal tips in the area.
A report set to go before cabinet on Thursday, January 27 has recommended establishing a tip safety management team within its front-line services.
The idea is that it would focus all current elements of spoil tip safety, including regulatory, management and maintenance into a single dedicated team.
The team would be made of a tip safety manager, a principal tip safety engineer, an assistant engineer, two inspectors and a technician.
Once the team is set up, the current Flood Risk and Tip Safety team would become the Flood Risk Management Team.
The new tip management team would be required to deliver a multi-million pound capital programme of tip safety works, together with scheduled and exceptional tip maintenance works.
These works would be identified following a programme of inspections and would be supported by the continued roll-out of the latest technological advancements in tip management and monitoring equipment and techniques, the report said.
The team would also contribute to engagement and collaboration with the Welsh Government Tip Safety team and The Coal Authority.
It would engage with private tip owners and, subject to grant availability or recharge, manage major capital or maintenance works on third party land.
It would also work towards delivering warning and informing systems and processes with the council’s emergency planning team to reduce risks of future incidents.
As the team becomes established, there would be opportunities to develop graduates and apprentices, the report said.
The new team would not take over the roles currently carried out by corporate estates such as the leasing of land and protection of boundary fence works but it is expected that there would be close working between the two areas.
The total costs are estimated at £489,000 per year with the staffing cost being £263,000 a year plus any market supplements (temporary fixed term additional payments to a salary to bring it up to the market rate).
A yearly revenue budget of £200,000 would be needed to undertake the
maintenance of the tips including dealing with vegetation, cleaning and repairing drainage channels, the repair of drainage structures and minor repairs of localised slips and scour.
Due to the inaccessibility of the sites and the need to drive vehicles onto the sites, two 4×4 vehicles will be needed for use by the inspectors undertaking the tip inspections with the cost of them being around £60,000 in total.
A further annual revenue budget of £26,000 would be needed for ongoing costs including vehicle running costs, ICT costs, monitoring equipment and PPE.
The council would look to use grant funding to fund ongoing costs (including vehicles).
The revenue maintenance costs are currently being funded by Welsh Government and the council said it will look to ensure continuation of these arrangements going forward as there is no guarantee of this being permanent.
The council will need to underwrite and accept the risk of permanent funding not being secured.
Any costs which cannot be funded by Welsh Government or external funding sources will be funded from one off resources at first.
The report said there are a significant number of coal spoil tips within the geographical area of RCT.
The total number is more than 340, of which over 70 are owned or part-owned by the council.
In recent years there have been a number of slips to coal tips, including at Tylorstown in February 2020 during Storm Dennis and in Wattstown in December 2020.
The report said: “It is widely acknowledged that the risk associated with coal spoil tips has increased as a result of climate change and its impact on the intensity and frequency of storm events.”
Both the Welsh and UK governments have set up a series of tip summits, with the Welsh Government leading a review of coal tip safety in Wales along with local authorities and The Coal Authority and providing funding and resources to support enhanced levels of inspections, maintenance, monitoring equipment and capital works.
RCT has been heavily involved with the Coal Tips Safety Group established by Welsh Government and has also benefited significantly from the funding and resources that have been made available to manage the liabilities associated with the tips, the cabinet report said.
The recent Welsh Government budget announcement included further commitments towards dealing with them.
The report said: “Arguably, RCT has the largest proportion of ongoing risk associated with these tips. It is therefore appropriate to review the level of resourcing involved in discharging our duties as regulators and owners, and in anticipation of a significant forward programme of capital
investment targeted at reducing the risks posed to our communities and our infrastructure.”
It added that the proposal to set up a dedicated tip safety management team is both “necessary and proportionate if the council is to discharge its duties and responsibilities effectively in order to protect our communities.”
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