UK Government can ‘show commitment to the Union’ by helping to clear up coal tips says Drakeford
The UK Government could show its commitment to the Union by helping to clear Wales’ most high risk coal tips, Mark Drakeford has said.
Speaking on Radio 4’s PM programme the First Minister said that if the UK Government stepped in it would show the people of Wales that the Union was “there at their back”.
He has called on the UK Government to use tomorrow’s Budget to help fix a problem created before devolution, as data has shown that over 300 coal tips in Wales are at higher risk.
“The UK Government, which talks a lot about the Union and its commitment to it, can say to Wales tomorrow that when a problem like this arises, the UK is there at their back to help them solve it,” he said.
“The UK Government has a responsibility to respond to that problem, which is not a problem created since devolution. The responsibilities are clear cut.”
The First Minister said that it would take 10 years and cost between £500m and £600m to clear away the high-risk coal tips.
“I want people who live near those tips to know that that effort is going on all the time and will go on all of this winter,” he said.
“Surveillance is the answer for now. The longer-term answer is a programme of work that puts these problems right.”
However, the First Minister he defended the decision not to name which tips were the ones at highest risk, saying that the information wasn’t reliable enough yet to be able to publish in that way.
“We will publish information as soon as we have it and as soon as people can rely on it,” he said.
“Next year there will be tip by tip information for people.”
For the first time ever today, the Welsh Government has been able to provide a breakdown of the 2,456 identified tips in Wales split into risk categories and by local authority.
The data shows that Neath Port Talbot has the greatest number of sites at 607 but that Rhondda Cynon Taf has the most sites classified as being at higher risk at 75.
Mark Drakeford said that “living in the shadow of a coal tip” was very concerning for communities.
“These sites pre-date devolution,” he said. Our funding settlement does not recognise the substantial, long-term costs of remediating and repairing these sites.
“Tomorrow’s Spending Review is an opportunity for the UK Government to use its financial powers to help communities who’ve given so much to Wales and the United Kingdom during the coal-mining years.
“A package of investment to remediate these sites will show how our two governments can work together for the communities we serve.”
However, he added that he wanted to reassure residents that a lot of work was being done to ensure the coal tips are safe.
“An inspection and maintenance regime is in place, with winter inspections currently underway on the higher risk tips,” he said.
“We’re also piloting technology trials to better understand any ground movement at higher risk sites.
“But we know the risks will increase with climate change and we know the importance of reaching a long-term solution.”
The new data follows a written statement from Climate Change Minister Julie James earlier this month where she confirmed Welsh Government had collected the data and shared with local authorities and Local Resilience Forums to assist with emergency preparedness.
Higher risk sites fall under categories C and D which recognise there is a potential to cause risk to safety, not that there is an imminent or immediate threat – it means that more frequent inspections are scheduled.
The publication of the data came ahead of today’s Coal Tip Safety Summit, which was meeting for the fourth time. The summit discussed the progress of the Coal Tip Safety Task Force, including data mapping and ongoing maintenance and inspection work.
Funding for the long-term reclamation of coal tips will also be discussed at the summit. Repurposing, reclamation and remediation of disused coal tips to deal with the legacy of the pre-devolution mining industry is estimated to cost at least £500m to £600m over the next decade and a half.
The Welsh Government has stressed the need for this investment to be frontloaded in the coming years, as rainfall intensifies and temperatures increase because of the changing climate.
Councillor Andrew Morgan (Rhondda Cynon Taf), the leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, said that work was being undertaken regularly to monitor and inspect coal tips for any movement or activity.
“However, this data shows that substantial long-term investment is needed if we are to make sure that necessary repair work is carried out and to ensure the safety of these sites across Wales,” he said.
“I am pleased that both the UK Government and Welsh Government are taking the issue seriously and have set up the Coal Tip Safety Task Force to jointly map out the work needed.
“However, despite a cross-party joint letter endorsed by all of the 22 council leaders in Wales requesting UK Government funding, it is disappointing that the UK Government – despite some initial financial support – has so far refused to commit to an ongoing programme of funding which is going to be needed to deal with this legacy issue which pre-dates devolution.
“The Spending Review gives a chance for the UK Government to give some much-needed reassurance to communities that are still living in the shadow of their industrial legacy.
“By working together with partners including UK Government, Welsh Government and local government, and with long term investment, we can help to make sure that we protect these sites against future climate change risks, and to prevent repeating past disasters.”