Watch: Andrew RT Davies accuses Mark Drakeford of misleading the Senedd in a bad tempered exchange over coal tips
Mark Drakeford and Andrew RT Davies have clashed in a bad-tempered exchange over coal tips, in which the leader of the Welsh Conservatives accused the First Minister of misleading the Senedd.
The Welsh Conservative leader had pointed to a 2014 document that noted that a coal tip at Taylorstown that slipped after Storm Dennis in 2020 had “stability issues” but noted that there was “no funding” available for a reclamation scheme.
He accused the Welsh Government of “prioritising the economy over safety” and said that they should have used £200m spent on Cardiff Airport in order to clear coal tips instead.
In a scathing response however, the First Minister described his comments as “absurd” and heckled him to “just get on with the question”.
“Well, there’s no need to bite back, First Minister,” Andrew RT Davies said. “You have the responsibility. You have the responsibility, you had the money and you had the choice to do it. Why haven’t you done it?”
Mark Drakeford said that the accusation “was not true at all” and there was never a funding application to clear the Taylorstown tip. “So, that’s the first piece of nonsense that we should lay to rest this afternoon,” he said.
“Well, fancy that, before you spend public money, you need a business case; £4.5 billion-worth, of course, of fraud leading to the resignation of a Tory Minister in London, without a business case in sight,” he said.
“We understand the way that his party goes about these responsibilities. Here in Wales, if you’re spending public money, of course you would expect there to be a business case.”
He said tht responsibility to clear up the coal tips rested with the UK Government which had created the issue before devolution.
“No nonsense about airport money being spent of coal tip remediation will disguise the fact that the responsibility for putting right the legacy that we see in Wales—with all the history that we have here in Wales, with all the fear that that engenders in Valleys communities—relies on a UK Conservative Government, and the answer they give is, ‘There’s not a penny piece to help,'” he said.
Andrew RT Davies responded that the First Minister knew “full well that the UK Government have made money available for coal tip restoration, First Minister, so you’ve misled the Assembly there by saying ‘not a penny piece’ has been made available”.
But he added that “it is your responsibility. That was part of the devolution settlement and the choices you made have not made that money available to make coal tips safe here in Wales, First Minister.”
The First Minister fired back that he didn’t “take very kindly to” the accusation of misleading the Senedd, “because I can tell you that I did not do anything of the sort.”
“The money that we have received from the UK Government was to help with the emergency work that was necessary in Tylorstown,” he said. “It is not a penny piece towards that long-term programme that the Coal Authority has recommended is necessary here in Wales.”
The argument came after campaigners for clearing coal tips in the south of Wales discovered a 2014 document that noted that the coal tip at Taylorstown had “stability issues” but noted that there was “no funding” available for a reclamation scheme.
The document by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council notes that “the Welsh Government has traditionally funded reclamation at 100%”. ut in this case the Welsh Government had “informed the council that it is unlikely to fund future reclamation work unless there is a ‘business case’ for it”.
“The focus of the business case being on economic outputs such as bringing forward development land.”
The document adds that “this leaves the other sites, some of which have historical stability issues, without potential funding and an increased future liability for the Council”.
It lists among these the “Tylorstown and Llanwonno Tips”. In its response to a coal slip following Storm Dennis in 2020, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council identified the tip that slipped as the Llanwonno Tip.
The Welsh Conservatives said at the time that the document showed that the Welsh Government’s “hypocrisy” was “staggering”.
“It appears the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay have put profit over safeguarding communities, which flies directly in the face of the recent rhetoric we’ve heard from ministers,” Tory MS Janet Finch-Saunders said.
“Labour have been in power for two decades and had ample opportunities to protect people and communities by making these coal tips safe, but as ever, they’ve chosen not to act, instead they’ve opted to blame others.
“It’s Labour’s responsibility to fix these tips – no ifs, no buts – and there can be no more excuses as lives are potentially at stake.”
Data released by the Welsh Government in October identified over 300 tips in the highest risk category across the country and estimated it will take up to 15 years and cost between £500 – £600 million to make them safe.
At the time, the Welsh Government asked the UK Government for financial support to clear the coal tips, saying that they were a problem created before devolution.
“It is indefensible that the UK Government has refused to work with us and provide funding to support the long-term remediation and repurposing of coal tips in Wales,” Minister for Finance and Local Government, Rebecca Evans MS, said at the time.
“These tips are a legacy of the UK’s industrial past. The need for work to address this impact of disruptive climate change was unknown, and provision was not made when Wales’ funding arrangements were agreed in 1999.
“The UK Government had an opportunity to show it is would stand behind the communities whose efforts created huge wealth for the UK, instead it has chosen to turn its back on them.”
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