MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Will there ever be remedy for Welsh coal mining past?

Published by MAC on 2021-04-08
Source: Nation Cymru, Daily Mail, Walesonline

Almost 300 old coal waste piles have been classed as “high-risk”.

 
In February last year, Storm Dennis caused the Llanwonno Upper Tip to fail above the village of Tylorstown, resulting in a large landslide that led to approximately 30,000 cubic metres of colliery tip material sliding down the slope and filling the Rhondda Fach river, diverting its course.
 
Almost 300 old coal tips in Wales have been classed as “high-risk” and work is needed to stabilise more than 2100 waste piles. Lisa Pinney, chief executive at the Coal Authority, said then that: "Just under 300 are higher-risk and they needed much more regular attention and inspection to make sure they stay safe".
 
“Coal tips are a bitter legacy of the coal industry. The Westminster Government must provide all the cash needed to ensure the safety of our people and deliver the peace of mind needed for people living in the shadow of coal tips. Anything less than Westminster meeting the full cost of making safe high risk coal tips would be unacceptable” stated Leanne Wood, Leader/Arweinydd of Plaid Cymru.

Coal mining has proceeded uninterrupted for around 800 years in Wales. At its peak in 1920, the industry employed 271,000 men in coal mines and produced over 57 million tonnes of the black stuff.
 
See also:
 
2016-10-21 The mistake that cost Aberfan its children
2011-09-26 Don't forget the victims of dust - they also suffered
2011-09-19 Mining disaster returns to Wales
 

Boris Johnson could pay to make coal tips safe to ‘counter rise in support for independence’

https://nation.cymru/news/boris-johnson-could-pay-to-make-coal-tips-safe-to-counter-rise-in-support-for-independence/

7 Apr 2021

Boris Johnson could pay to make Welsh coal tips safe to “counter a rise in support for independence”, according to a think tank director.

Bronwen Maddox, of the Institute for Government, claimed that the UK Prime Minister “is newly alert to Welsh sensitivities about remedies for the industrial past”.

According to an ITV poll, support for independence is at the highest level ever recorded, with 39% of Welsh people saying they would now vote ‘yes’ in a referendum.

Maddox, a non-executive board member of the Law Commission, believes this rise could lead to a “strong showing” from Plaid Cymru in the Senedd elections.

Leanne Wood, the incumbent candidate for the party in the Rhondda, has said that Westminster should foot the bill for making high risk coal tips safe, as has the Welsh Government. But the UK Government have initially balked at the suggestion.

Almost 300 old coal tips in Wales have been classed as “high-risk”, and urgent work is now under way to stabilise more than 2,100 waste tips, following landslides caused by storms.

Bronwen Maddox wrote in the Financial Times: “The stability of more than the coal tips may be at stake — the row over who is responsible could be linked to the future of the UK itself.

“It is half a century or so since the big waves of postwar mine closures in south Wales.

“But there are big questions around who should be responsible, and who will pay, partly because of devolution two decades ago.

“Boris Johnson’s government, as it looks to counter a rise in support for Welsh independence that may give the nationalist party Plaid Cymru a strong showing in May 6 elections, is newly alert to Welsh sensitivities about remedies for the industrial past.

“Before the storms, its position was that flooding and mine safety was the responsibility of the devolved administration in Cardiff, but it has now promised £2.5m for the clean-up.

“One collapsed in a landslide in February last year; another in December. In 1966, tragedy struck Aberfan, just one valley over, when a coal tip slid on to a primary school killing 116 children and 28 adults.”

‘Fuel for dispute’

She added: “And who should pay? Some estimates put the stabilisation cost at £500m — trivial in the context of coronavirus but ample fuel for dispute between UK and Welsh governments.

“Cardiff argues that it is a UK responsibility, a legacy of an industrial past that fuelled the Royal Navy, steel mills, rail and power and long predated the devolution of 1999.

“The May elections may well shape the answer, given the strength that Plaid Cymru, pushing for an independence referendum, is expected to muster.

“For all Johnson’s initial dismissal of the Welsh government’s claims, he has made preservation of the Union a prime mission.

“He could find that sending millions of pounds to the Valleys to shore up the coal tips proves an attractive, and even economical, way of shoring up support for the United Kingdom.”

Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood said: “Coal tips are a bitter legacy of the coal industry. The Westminster Government must provide all the cash needed to ensure the safety of our people and deliver the peace of mind needed for people living in the shadow of coal tips.

“When the profits from coal mining were not seen in Rhondda, nor in many other coalfield areas across Wales, coupled with the high cost to health and lives of the workers and their families, that funding and more is owed to us.

“The final insult from all of this would be to burden people in Wales with the cost of making their communities safe and clean in light of the increased risk of flooding and other extreme weather because of climate change.

“Anything less than Westminster meeting the full cost of making safe high risk coal tips would be unacceptable.”


More than 250 old coal tips in the Welsh valleys are classed as 'high-risk' amid fears of another Aberfan disaster

Huge check launched in Tylorstown, Rhondda after a 60,000 tonne landslip thundered down a hillside. This triggered an investigation into the safety of old coal tips with 249 found to pose a high risk danger to life. MP Christ Bryant has called for essential funding for securing the tips and emergency summit called.

Matt Drake For Mailonline

21 February 2021

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9284227/More-250-old-coal-tips-Wales-classed-high-risk-amid-fears-Aberfan-disaster.html

More than 250 old coal tips have been classed 'high-risk' in the Welsh valleys - as people fear there could be another Aberfan-type disaster.

A huge check on Welsh mining tips was launched after a 60,000-ton landslip of earth and rubble thundered down a hillside in Tylorstown, Rhondda, last year as Storm Dennis wreaked havoc.

The landslide triggered an investigation into the safety of old coal tips - with 294 were found to be 'high-risk', posing a danger to life or property.

Lisa Pinney, chief executive at the Coal Authority, said: 'Just under 300 are higher-risk sites but that really just means that they needed much more regular attention and inspection to make sure they stay safe.

'Any tip which is old mining material sitting on a hillside can pose a risk, obviously, but the key thing to their safety is to manage water and keep it away.

'And that's why these inspections and maintenance are so important.'

At it's peak in 1920, Wales employed 271,000 men in coal mines and produced over 57 million tonnes of the black stuff.

But the industry fell into a decline as demand fell and the oil industry grew bringing about the closing of 50 collieries by 1964.

Coal waste tips are lasting legacy of the once-lucrative industry and there are 2,000 dotted across Wales, mostly in south Wales.

The worst disaster was in October 1966 when the coal tip buried a school at Aberfan, killing 144 under the waste.

Rhondda MP Christ Bryant has called for essential funding for securing the tips.

He said: 'It's shocking that no proper register of disused coal tips was made when the mines closed, so this work is long overdue.

'With so many on private land this is going to be a massive and complex piece of work in which Parliament and Senedd must work together.

'My biggest fear is Chancellor Rishi Sunak will demand that local councils pay for this out of their council tax but the poorest communities in the UK should not be forced to pay for tidying up our national industrial heritage.'

A Welsh Government virtual summit on mine safety will be held on Tuesday to discuss the dangers.


Westminster should foot bill for making ‘high risk coal tips safe’, says Plaid Cymru MS

https://nation.cymru/news/westminster-should-foot-bill-for-making-high-risk-coal-tips-safe-says-plaid-cymru-ms/

16 Feb 2021

Westminster should foot the bill for making high risk coal tips safe, according to a Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd.

Leanne Wood, who represents the constituency of the Rhondda, said it was necessary to “deliver the peace of mind needed for people living in the shadow of coal tips.”

Almost 300 old coal tips in Wales have been classed as “high-risk” a year on from a 60,000 tonne landslip caused by Storm Dennis. The matter will now be discussed at a Welsh Government summit on mine safety.

Wales has more than 2,000 coal tips and of those, 294 are categorised as “high-risk”, which means they could endanger life or property.

The Plaid Cymru MS said the Westminster Government should provide “all the cash” to make sure are people are safe.

Ms Wood added that profits from coal mining were “not seen” in the Rhondda nor in “many other coalfield areas across Wales” and said the funding was more than “owed to us”.

‘Bitter legacy’

She said: “Coal tips are a bitter legacy of the coal industry. The Westminster Government must provide all the cash needed to ensure the safety of our people and deliver the peace of mind needed for people living in the shadow of coal tips.

“When the profits from coal mining were not seen in Rhondda, nor in many other coalfield areas across Wales, coupled with the high cost to health and lives of the workers and their families, that funding and more is owed to us.

“The final insult from all of this would be to burden people in Wales with the cost of making their communities safe and clean in light of the increased risk of flooding and other extreme weather because of climate change.

“Anything less than Westminster meeting the full cost of making safe high risk coal tips would be unacceptable.”

Janet Finch-Saunders, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, has said she is “concerned” about the report into coal tips in Wales

She said: “The damage wreaked by Storms Ciara, Dennis, and others at the start of 2020 devastated lives, homes, and businesses in Wales, especially communities in former mining areas where the effect on redundant coal tips must have caused great anxiety for residents.

“In a clear demonstration of the value of Wales in a strong United Kingdom, some £31 million was provided for flood damage remediation work to be carried out.

“The longer-term considerations and any remedial work for the coal tips n question will be a massive task, and one that only a strong Welsh Government working with the UK Government can fix.”


‘Not fit for purpose’: Review of laws around inspection and maintenance of Wales’ coal tips

The aftermath of the Tylorstown landslide which happened during Storm Dennis.

Anthony Lewis

https://nation.cymru/news/not-fit-for-purpose-review-of-laws-around-inspection-and-maintenance-of-wales-coal-tips/

11 Feb 2021

The Welsh Government is reviewing laws around inspection and maintenance of coal tips which it said are “not fit for purpose.”

Lesley Griffiths the Welsh Government’s minister for energy, environment and rural affairs released a statement on the safety of Wales’ old coal tips in the lead up to the first anniversary of the landslide at the Llanwonno coal tip in Tylorstown.

During February 2020, Wales suffered unprecedented effects from storms Ciara and Dennis which led to the slip in the Rhondda Fach.

At a summit following the land slip at Tylorstown, a joint taskforce was established by the Welsh and UK governments to assess the immediate status of coal tips in Wales and review the existing policy and legislative framework relating to disused coal tip management.

Its role is to look at the number of tips, inspection, maintenance, emergency preparedness, existing policy and legislation and funding.

The Coal Authority was commissioned to undertake urgent ground inspections of coal tips in Wales, identifying any urgent works and the risk status of each tip and a public helpline has been set up.

The first round of tip inspections was completed in July 2020 and the second round of inspections of high-risk tips is due to finish this month.

There is no standard or consistent approach to risk assessment in the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act of 1969 and the Coal Authority has been using Rhondda Cynon Taf’s method of assessment to judge the risk of tips with A being the lowest risk and D being the highest meaning there’s a risk to life or property.

The current legislation does not mandate regular inspections of disused tips or once a tip becomes disused.

The Law Commission is undertaking a review of current legislation which will run for 15 months and is set to provide recommendations for a future bill.

The consultation should start in spring this year with the final report due in early 2022 and there is potential for a remediation programme.

Negotiations are ongoing with the UK Government over long term funding but £9m has been secured for this financial year towards coal tip safety.

The coal authority has supported councils by doing some of the inspections on these high-risk tips which have identified the maintenance requirements and the time-scales within which they need to be completed.

‘Complexity’

Ms Grffiths said: “In a small number of cases, the inspections have highlighted works, which are immediately required to ensure the tip is being maintained at a standard necessary to enable routine monitoring.  In these cases, we have urged local authorities to carry out the necessary works without delay.

“In partnership with the Coal Authority, local authorities, WLGA and Natural Resources Wales, the taskforce has made significant progress in gaining a detailed picture of the coal tip landscape across Wales, with 2144 coal tips identified, predominately in the South Wales Valleys.

Councils must now ensure any necessary works identified from the inspections are done, working with the Coal Authority and any private owners, to safeguard the structural integrity of the tips within their areas.

A number of councils have commenced works, including at Tylorstown, where the Rhondda Fach River is being cleared to enable the main works programme to start this summer.

‘Robust’

Ms Griffiths said: “The complexity and timeliness of this type of work should not be underestimated.  There are a number of factors to be considered in relation to any remediation work, not least environmental.

“A review of the current legislation undertaken by the taskforce concluded it is neither sufficiently robust nor fit for purpose, in relation to inspection and maintenance regimes.”

Ms Griffiths said: “The taskforce is developing policies in parallel to the work of the Law Commission.  The longer term policy objective is to develop a consistent approach for use across Wales for risk assessments and risk categories.  Management controls, including a central database, for all tips will also be developed.

“A robust inspection and maintenance regime will ensure safeguarding our communities remains a priority, with people living near coal tips feeling safe and secure.  The taskforce has also been working with All Wales Risk Group to raise awareness with local resilience forums about coal tip safety links to community risk registers and emergency plans.”

To support the future monitoring regime to continually assess the stability of coal tips, Welsh Government is  providing funding to support the trial of sensor equipment, which can be placed on coal tips and monitor any movement, enabling different methods of action to be assessed to ensure the most appropriate approach is applied across high-risk tips.

“Coal tips are a legacy of Wales’ industrial history, which pre-dates devolution.

“However, the risks and liabilities associated with this legacy are not reflected in the current fiscal framework.

“The funding required for urgent remediation and maintenance works has been negotiated with UK Government for 2020/21 as part of the funding package to support recovery following the storms last year.

“The £9 million received will be used to support the Tylorstown recovery work and immediate emergency maintenance required at other high-risk tips.

“The long-term remediation programme is likely to run for up to 10 years and will require a comprehensive funding package.”

“We could still see further heavy rainfall in Wales this winter. This can increase flood risk as well as posing a risk to tip safety in some circumstances. ”

Members of the public can report any concerns about coal tips or get safety advice from the Coal Authority’s 24/7 helpline on 0800 021 9230 or via tips@coal.gov.uk



Debate over what to do with tonnes of coal waste from Tylorstown landslide

There needs to be temporary storage of 30,000 cubic metres of material which came down the mountain in the Rhondda Fach last February.

Anthony Lewis https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/local-news/debate-over-what-tonnes-coal-19632873

15 JAN 2021

Plans to store thousands of cubic metres of landslip material which fell down the mountain in Tylorstown during Storm Dennis last year will be considered by councillors.

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council has applied for what is mainly retrospective permission for the deposit and storage of approximately 30,000 cubic metres of material from the Tylorstown landslip.

On February last year Storm Dennis caused the Llanwonno Upper Tip to fail above the village of Tylorstown resulting in a large landslip followed by a smaller, secondary event.

This led to approximately 30,000 cubic metres of colliery tip material sliding down the slope and filling the valley bottom which filled the Rhondda Fach river diverting its course to the western side of the valley bottom.

The diverted river began eroding the western bank of the river creating a vertically unstable face of approximately five metres which threatened to undermine the Rhondda Fach Leisure Centre car park adjacent to the top of the bank.

The slipped material also seriously damaged and breached a main sewer beneath the leisure centre downstream of the landslide, felled numerous trees in its wake and covered a water main below the former railway line.

There are two applications with one for each respective receptor site with the one involving 22,000 cubic metres on land across from Oaklands Business Park in Ferndale and the other involving 8,000 cubic metres near Station Road in Ferndale.

The deposit and storage of the material includes the formation of stockpiles, material consolidation, drainage and habitat and ecological mitigation measures.

The council said the sites were chosen as they were conveniently located close to the slip and the capacity was considered to be capable of safely accommodating the amount of material required to be stockpiled temporarily.

The application is retrospective because work was started without the benefit of planning consent due to the threat to the local buildings and infrastructure caused by the landslip and extensive scouring from the diverted river.

But the planning report said that the council had sought early advice from both the countryside, landscape and ecology section as well as the planning department and other in-house technical experts before any work had started.

Work to deposit the material on the receptor sites began in July 2020 and is expected to continue until February 2021.

The application proposes temporary storage of this material for no more than three years to allow sufficient time for consultation and monitoring before the submission of a planning application for the permanent scheme.

There was one objection to the plans which criticised the use of retrospective planning and raised environmental concerns.

It also criticised the comprehensiveness of some of the ecological surveys and the limited ecological safeguards as well as the ecological mitigation and environmental compensation strategy.

The objector said there will be an adverse impact on ancient woodland and the work done is one dimensional.

They said proposals will have an impact on low chemical input farming and RCT as a landowner are “notoriously negligent” in allowing invasive species to both flourish and spread to neighbouring lands.

They said approval should not be given whilst the applicant continues to work in isolation and that a collaborative, comprehensive and detailed mitigation and restoration plan should be requested.

They also raised concern about the chemical stability of the material, groundwater contamination and the consequences of the development flooding downstream by the reduction in the flood plain.

Finally they are concerned about the use by scramblers (motorcycles) on council land and a lack of “policing” of activities on it.

But the planning officers at RCT Council have recommended it for approval.

They said: “The development, while largely retrospective, has been necessary to remediate the landslip that occurred earlier this year.

“Fortunately, nobody was injured as a result of this incident, but it was clear that action to remove the material from the river was urgently necessary.

“The proposal represents the most efficient and environmentally sustainable of the (limited) options available.

“While the stockpiling of this material will have some negative visual impact, it is necessary (for safety reasons) to dry out the material before it can be worked and will only be for a temporary period before being removed /remodelled.

“This will be the subject of a separate planning application (to be made at a future date).”

They said: “The impacts (environmental and otherwise) of the works are not considered to be significant and the retention and completion of the earth movements are considered acceptable.

“As the works are largely complete (scheduled to be completed in February) it is not considered that any many additional conditions are necessary other than to define the plans and documents that comprise the proposal (including mitigation) and the duration of the storage of the material (and its subsequent removal/reprofiling).”

If the committee decides, at its meeting on Thursday, January 21, to refuse the applications then the material will need to be moved to an alternative location which would likely need the submission of another planning application.

 

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