Welsh Government “unlikely to welcome” new opencast mines

(Title Image: Coflein Mapping)

Petitions Committee
(Petition P-04-472) Make the MTAN law & (Petition P-04-575) Call in all opencast mining applications (pdf)
Published: 27th April 2017

Chair’s Statement, David Rowlands AM (UKIP, South Wales East):

“…the evidence we have received from the Welsh Government demonstrates a clear steer away from new opencast mining developments being permitted in the future and new planning policy, which is currently being consulted on, provides a further opportunity for local communities to express their views.”

1. Proposed changes to planning policy make it more likely opencast plans will be rejected

The current planning guidance on opencast mines is known as Minerals Technical Advice Note 2 (MTAN2). It sets out – to mining companies and local government – what impacts need to be assessed and how they can be addressed.

The guidelines included within it – such as having a minimum 500m buffer between a mine and residential areas – are, however, not binding and some companies have proposed (or are undertaking) open casting that violates these guidelines.

The Secretary for Energy, Planning & Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) stressed the need for flexibility in planning policy. However, there is a clear intention to move away from fossil fuels towards clean energy.

New planning policies will be published imminently which support this policy and would no longer support open casting or the creation of new mines. The new policies are out for public consultation until 18th May 2018.

2. The Welsh Government doesn’t expect (and doesn’t welcome) new mining applications

Due to the UK Government’s announcement that coal-fired power will be phased-out by 2025, the Cabinet Secretary expected the market for coal to diminish.

The Welsh Government also has the power to “call in” any planning applications that may, for example, go against national planning policy, are controversial or will significantly affect the environment or landscape. It doesn’t mean an application will be rejected, just that the decision on it may be taken at a higher level.

While the Welsh Government believe the power to “call in” should be used sparingly and based on evidence, the Committee concluded that combined with the expectations of a less-profitable coal market and the policy commitment towards clean energy, future applications for open casting were likely to be rejected.

3. Planning policy should ensure mining companies provide enough money to cover restoration work

There’s a long-running saga on this in Bridgend (more here) and I doubt that will be the last example either.

The United Valleys Action Group believe local authorities should ensure mining companies make proper resources for restoration available and properly enforce it.

The proposed new planning policy states that planning applications for new mines should be refused unless there are provisions and finance for “satisfactory and suitable restoration” that’s of a “high standard” and starts within 6 months of a mine ceasing mineral extraction.

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