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Fears raised in Senedd over coal tip reclamation projects

PROPOSALS to reclaim disused tips risk opening the floodgates to coal extraction under the guise of remediation, the Senedd heard.

Delyth Jewell led a Plaid Cymru debate on coal tip and opencast mine remediation, warning a new industry is emerging with reclamation coming at the price of coal extraction.

Ms Jewell, who represents South Wales East, raised concerns about Energy Recovery Investments Limited’s (ERI) proposals for reclamation of Bedwas tip.

Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader said: “Before the land is restored to its former glory, it seems it must be ravaged and plundered again.”

She said some make good on promises but others do not, “claiming at the end of projects that not enough money remains for restoring – it’s all gone on draining every drop of profit.”

Hefin David urged fellow members to keep an open mind to ERI’s plans to remediate coal tips in Bedwas in his Caerphilly constituency.

Dr David said: “We need to keep an open mind about any opportunity or avenue we have to remediate, but at the same time we must ask sceptical questions.”

He stressed: “This isn’t Ffos y Fran, this isn’t ‘leave it as a disaster zone and exploit the land.

“This is a company that is saying, ‘Yes, we’ll take the coal as a by-product and we’ll make a profit, but we are there to remediate the land.’”

Dr David added his voice to a chorus of calls for the UK Government to urgently provide additional funding for proper long-term remediation of disused tips.

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Plaid Cymru’s Peredur Owen Griffiths raised concerns about the “troubling” proposals for a coal-extraction project in his South Wales East region.

Mr Owen Griffiths said ERI is planning to extract coal from the Bedwas colliery site over seven years, with a possible extension.

He told the chamber: “The potential implications of the project are far-reaching and alarming, with many questions yet to be answered satisfactorily to alleviate the concerns of residents.”

Warning it could set a dangerous precedent, with more than 300 at-risk coal tips in south Wales, he said the project risks allowing coal extraction under the guise of remediation.

Mr Owen Griffiths said: “It’s imperative that we ask many searching questions to guard against attempts to revive the coal-mining industry through the back door.”

Rhianon Passmore said people in her Islwyn constituency have deep concerns about ERI’s plans for the former coal tips at Mynydd y Grug in Bedwas.

Ms Passmore raised constituents’ concerns about 18 to 20 lorries a day travelling down a haul road that passes through the Sirhowy valley country park.

Pointing out that a planning application has yet to be submitted, she said: “While we want to see coal tips removed and remediated, it cannot and should not be at any cost.”

The Labour MS said the Welsh Government has committed £47m but the UK Government has yet to contribute funding for long-term remediation of disused coal tips.

She called for the UK Government to step up to the plate and take responsibility.

Sioned Williams said there are more than 900 disused tips in her South Wales West region, warning that the landscape has been scarred with environmental hazards left behind.

The Plaid Cymru MS raised the example of Godre’r Graig in the Swansea valley.

She said: “Due to an assessment of the risk of the quarry spoil tip to the village school, children have had to be educated in Portakabins miles away from the village since 2019.

“The school has now been demolished, causing absolute heartbreak in the community.”

Heledd Fychan, who represents South Wales Central, called for new legislation to reflect the realities of today, pointing out that the Mines and Quarries Act dates back to 1969.

The Plaid Cymru MS said: “It is absolutely appalling, in my view, that the UK Government has not played its part in helping to fund the work.”

Joel James, for the Conservatives, rejected Plaid Cymru’s “alternative reality” that paints Wales as a victim of exploitation during the industrial revolution.

“The truth is that our national resources were used to help to enrich us,” he said.

Mr James argued the UK Government should not be expected to pick up the bill for remediation while the Welsh Government brings forward proposed legislation on disused tips.

The South Wales Central MS said the Welsh Government has resources at its disposal, criticising the estimated £18m-a-year cost for 36 more politicians in Cardiff Bay.

Mr James said Wales should engage with ERI on remediation works.

Julie James – who could not comment on the Bedwas proposals – said her father was a miner who died of cancer, almost certainly because of his mining history.

She said: “That will be the case in many families across Wales. To say that that isn’t exploitation beggars belief, quite frankly.”

Wales’ local government and planning secretary urged the UK Government to recognise its moral responsibility to help fund remediation because coal tips long predate devolution.

Ms James said a forthcoming coal tips, mines and quarries bill will reform outdated laws around tip safety and give greater security to people living in its shadow.

MSs voted down Plaid Cymru’s motion, 12-45, with Conservative amendments also falling. The motion as amended by the Welsh Government was agreed, 41-16.

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