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Senedd committee seeks answers from Welsh Government on mining at Ffos-y-Fran

27 Jul 2023 4 minute read
Ffos-y-Fran opencast coal mine

Siân Williams

Concerns are mounting that coal is still being extracted from Ffos-y-Fran, the UK’s largest opencast coal mine and that the company operating the mine could eventually “walk away” without restoring the site.

The Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee have sent a letter to the Welsh Government’s Minister for Climate Change Julie James seeking answers about the situation at the mine in Merthyr Tydfil.

Despite the expiration of its planning permission in September 2022, mining has continued, with almost 200,000 tonnes of coal subsequently extracted.

Ffos-y-Fran’s owners were refused a planning application to extend operations until March 2024.,  by Merthyr Council in April.

In May, the local authority issued mine operators Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd with an enforcement notice, which they are appealing, and which could take 12 months or more to resolve according to Committee Chair Llyr Gruffydd MS.

In his letter to Climate Change Minister Julie James MS, Mr Gruffydd points out that the current situation ‘raises significant questions about the environmental impact of the mine, the effectiveness of the legal and regulatory framework, and the effect on the local community’.

He says that the Welsh Government: “must clarify its position to maintain public trust, and must ensure its actions align with its commitments to addressing climate change and protecting the environment.”

Outrageous

Wales Green Party leader Anthony Slaughter told Nation.Cymru he welcomed the letter which which has been sent to the Welsh Government, adding: “It’s outrageous that the mine is still operating when it should have stopped in September.

“What’s confusing to us is that Merthyr Council could have issued a breach of conditions notice and that can’t be appealed.

“In the last few days, we have written to the council to ask why that didn’t happen and we’re now waiting for an answer.”

The Wales Green Party has also been liaising with Coal Action Network and the Good Law Project who have sent a legal letter to Merthyr Council and to the Welsh Government calling for a stop notice to be issued by 1 August at the latest.

Mr Slaughter said he attended the Merthyr Council meeting last May when councillors refused the extension of the planning application to continue to extract coal at Ffos-y-Fran.

“Each and every councillor stood up and had to have their say about how we cannot carry on mining, we’re in a climate emergency, although this has been going on under their nose for several months.

“The local residents have been fighting this for years and it was so good to be there with them when finally, it looked like they’d managed to stop them. Then over the next few weeks it unfolds and they just carry on mining and they could (do so) for another year.

“The Welsh Government have to step up here – you can’t go around declaring climate emergencies and bragging about the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (without) using the powers you’ve got to stop this from happening.”

Environmental impact

MSs on the committee have also expressed concerns that the mine’s operators might continue to extract coal – possibly for another 12 months – while they appeal against the enforcement notice.

Mr Slaughter said: “The news couldn’t be starker in recent weeks about the climate emergency at the moment. We’re seeing southern Europe on fire and we’re seeing flooding everywhere and yet this is allowed to continue (at Ffos-y-Fran).”

Questions have also been raised about the cost of restoring the land at Ffos-y-Fran, estimated at between £75m and £125m.

It has been reported that the mining company has put aside only £15 million for the work.

Mr Gruffydd has asked what steps can be taken by the government to ensure the mining company pays the full restoration costs.

Mr Slaughter agrees that this is “a big worry” and said: “We need really strict enforcement about the restoration of the site once the mining stops. The company haven’t fulfilled their legal obligations, they didn’t put aside the money they promised for restoration. There’s a great fear in the community that once it eventually stops, and hopefully that is in August, they probably will just walk away.

“The Welsh Government have created a mess and that site is there and needs to be restored. Coal is part of Wales’s past and it has no place in its future.”

Nation.Cymru has contacted Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd for a response.


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Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
8 months ago

Independent or Labour led, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council WON’T issue a breach of conditions notice. Whether that’s because old men have no problem with coal being mined or they’re just gutless, it doesn’t matter! MTCBC is nothing but a bunch of amateur and semi pro Councillors having rings run round them by large well run English corporations and the British establishment. The sooner they do away with silly unitary authorities in Cymru formed from Boroughs and Districts with tiny populations the better. FTR Miller and Argent, the companies behind that blight on the Valley’s landscape, targeted MTCBC because of… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 months ago

Merthyr Council, brown envelope self serving self preservation merchants.They are probably hoping that the massive hole that will be left when the mining company cuts and runs with the money will be used as the next landfill site. Brown envelopes have probably already changed hands to ensure this happens.

Ap Kenneth
Ap Kenneth
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

I think your coment regarding landfill is spot on, someone has already got the pound signs fluttering in their eyes, it is a bleedin deep hole. Brown enevlopes is so 1980’s, probably more sophisticated and difficult to track now, as accountants have a duty to report such obvious deals.
Carwyn Jones when enviroment minister was quite happy to lumber Ruabon, Johnstown and Cefn Mawr with landfill to fill large clay pits with Merseysides waste, smell is horrific and caught fire the other year. But someone makes a huge amount of money with no care for the local community.

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

Who needs brown envelopes when you have gullible councillors who do what they’re told to do 🙄

Malcolm Jones
Malcolm Jones
8 months ago

Who in Merthyr Tydfil council was responsible checking that they were putting the money into the restoration fund??? that is common sense for someone to be doing that unless they were collecting brown envelopes for sixteen years

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
8 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Jones

Merthyr Tydfil Council NEVER independently checked noise levels or air quality. So, what makes you think they ever checked the restoration fund. Councillors on small Councils follow what their Council officers tell them. Council officers in turn follow what civil servants and lobbyists tell them.

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
8 months ago

The fact these environmental vandals are still active is an absolute disgrace and sheds no glory on those responsible at both local and higher levels.

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Woods

They’ve clearly been given the nod through channels from the UK Government. As a result they don’t care what, if anything, the local council and the Welsh Government say or do to them.

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