Son of a Beech: Parc Slip Update

There were further – perhaps significant – developments on the Parc Slip opencast mine saga over the last fortnight, with Bridgend Council’s Planning Committee provided with an update by officers ahead of their meeting on Thursday (15th October) – which you can read here (pdf).


For more background on the developments this year :

You’ll all know of the difficulties Bridgend (BCBC) and Neath Port Talbot (NPT) councils have had in getting the owners of the opencast site to restore it, or at very least mitigate a serious build up of water in the hole.

Earlier this month, members of NPT’s planning committee claimed, via the South Wales Evening Post, that the build up of water threatens an Aberfan-style disaster. That, to me, seems slightly hysterical, but the water is certainly a potential danger. The committee voted to advise the mine’s owners to seek an alternative restoration scheme.

I’m going to presume the same information has now been passed to Bridgend councillors in this report, but it’s worth covering anyway.

Discussions with the Mine Owners

 

    • It’s confirmed the mine is owned by “Beech (Regeneration)” – I mentioned them in passing in A Princely Sum – which are a subsidiary of Oak Regeneration, who are in turn themselves a subsidiary/closely-related spin-out of Caerphilly-based Celtic Energy. Celtic Energy’s involvement at Parc Slip is reportedly limited to monitoring water levels.
    • A “long-term solution” will need to be found to keep the water at the same level, as it’s claimed it’s becoming too expensive to pump it out. Celtic Energy will continue pumping until mid-2016, but after that they say there’ll be no more resources to continue – they’ll give 3 months notice before ceasing.
    • Both Celtic Energy and Oak Regeneration accept there’s no future for coal mining at Parc Slip due to the falling price of coal. There’s no opportunity to cross-finance restoration from other sites either because funding is ring-fenced for each individual site.
    • Both councils accept that recreational, leisure and energy developments may be appropriate, but reject housing.
    • Complete restoration is “unachievable”, but some form of restoration where water levels can be controlled is feasible. However, former roads that crossed the site may not be restored, and could be replaced with foot/cycle lanes.
    • Celtic Energy say a planning application for a restoration scheme may be submitted next year.

 


The Welsh Government Summit
  • A summit hosted by Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) was held on July 9th this year, attended by mining experts, mining companies, AMs and officials from the Scottish Government.
  • It was acknowledged there were a number of complex issues, such as : a lack of expert staff, an inadequate planning enforcement process and issues with the global coal market.
  • The Minister agreed to focus on:
    • Pooling minerals planning skills
    • Seeking consensus between mining companies and local authorities on possible bonds for mine restoration
    • Reviewing national planning guidance for minerals (known as MTAN2)
    • Starting discussions with the UK Government on the issue of “legacy sites” (unrestored sites since privatisation)
  • A representative from the UK Department of the Environment and Climate Change is said to be visiting the area towards the end of October 2015 for further discussions; but officials can’t rely on UK Government funding to restore the site, and discussions on future changes won’t help the situation at Parc Slip.

The Next Steps
  • Any enforcement action is “extremely unlikely” to be successful as it would be challengable. Also, the funds aren’t there to restore the site even if the enforcement is upheld; if the company/companies fold, local authorities will have to fund restoration themselves.
  • Celtic Energy are willing to co-operate on restoration work, but that’s largely dependent on them continuing to remain solvent as a company. As said, Celtic Energy have informed the local authorities that they won’t pump out the water indefinitely.
  • The council/councils have a duty to consider any planning application for restoration of the site on its own merits, though safety and the impact on the landscape will be material considerations. Planning applications will have to be submitted to both BCBC and NPT as the site crosses the boundary.
  • The water void is certain to remain post-restoration, though water levels will be controlled by a method that isn’t reliant on mechanical pumping (this implies they’ll empty the void into the River Kenfig).
  • If approved by councillors, any restoration work may begin in the second half of 2016 and could be completed some time in 2017.

Good News or Bad News?

Although this is far from over I’d say there’s been some progress. Though I’d remain cautious until any plans are submitted and approved, and residents living nearby see shovels in the ground. Once any plans are submitted I’ll of course provide the details.

It’s unlikely there’ll be any Tellytubby “Garden Village” – those plans are now dead. Likewise, the owners accept there won’t be any additional coal mining.

The water issue will (eventually) be dealt with permanently. However, as we enter the wettest part of the year the current water levels need to be monitored carefully. Celtic Energy have again shown their contempt for residents and local authorities by saying they’ll turn off the pumps next year – that’s a very worrying development if no plans come forward.

The bad news is, of course, that the site will never be fully restored. If it finally brings this saga to an end then maybe it’s a price worth paying, as I’m sure everyone involved – from local residents up to the First Minister – are getting tired of it.

Even if it is partially restored, Parc Slip will serve as yet another reminder – as if we needed another one – of how bent business practices, lax governance and legal loopholes have enabled private companies to leave permanent scars on Wales in the pursuit of profits. I suspect it won’t be the last scar either.

Date Set for Ogmore Vale By-Election

Della Hughes – formerly Independent councillor for the Ogmore Vale ward on Bridgend Council – resigned her seat in September.

Consequently, notice has been issued for a by-election (doc), which is due to take place on Thursday 12th November 2015.

There’s no news as far as I can tell in terms of candidates, so at the moment it’s unclear whether the election will even be contested.

It’s unlikely anyone reading this will be interested in standing, but if you are, you had better get your skates on as the deadline for submission of nomination papers is 4pm on Friday 16th October.

Owen