Margam Mine Restoration Called-In?

                                                                                                                    (Pic: BBC Wales)

Update 9th June 2016: According to a BCBC officer at a Planning Committee meeting (which you can watch here at 59:21 in), the “call in” order from the Welsh Government has been lifted – which means this post is now redundant. Some of the S106 conditions have been amended to match Neath Port Talbot’s and fix some errors. It doesn’t affect the decision or proposals themselves.

As promised last month, I take a break from the Assembly election to (sort of) cover a special meeting of Bridgend Council’s (BCBC) Planning Committee held this afternoon.

The meeting was (originally) to determine Celtic Energy’s application to partially restore the former Parc Slip/Margam opencast site on the outskirts of Kenfig Hill. Events overtook it as you’ll read later.

The saga in its entirity:

As the mine straddles the border between Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot (NPT), planning applications have been submitted to both authorities. I outlined Celtic Energy’s plans for the site last November, but the full document presented to councillors is available here (pdf).
Both councils accept full restoration (with or without formal enforcement) was unlikely. Despite this, controversy still surrounds the fact a 108 metre deep water-filled void will remain, with works carried out to allow excess water to drain into the River Kenfig.

The report outlined the results of a model which predicted what flooding might occur if one of the void’s walls was breached.

It predicts within 2 hours of a breach, 1.75 million cubic metres of water would flow into the River Kenfig, resulting in floods – between 2 metres (6’6”) and 4 metres (13′) deep in some areas – downstream at the Crown Road area of Kenfig Hill, North Cornelly and the Kenfig Industrial Estate which would be, in the report’s own words, “potentially catastrophic and life threatening”.

In summing up, the report states:

“There is clear conflict between the restoration as originally envisaged and supported by the local community and what is realistically achievable and deliverable within financial and legal constraints outlined in the report”.

Officers still recommended the Committee approve the application, subject to a Section 106 agreement.

In dramatic developments, this week’s Glamorgan Gazette revealed a request has been made for the application(s) to be “called-in”. That means a full public inquiry could be held, while the incoming Welsh Government minister with responsibility for planning would decide the application themselves.

As a result, neither Bridgend nor Neath Port Talbot councils can decide the application’s fate until the call-in is resolved.

Timing is critical because the report says that in June 2017 access to the land will be withheld. In June 2015, Celtic Energy agreed a two-year window to access the land for restoration works with landowners. So unless an extension can be agreed, time’s running out to get started. By the sounds of it Celtic Energy would’ve started work on site within days of the application(s) being approved.

You’re probably wondering why I haven’t got any coverage of the meeting itself. The meeting went ahead as scheduled, but due to server problems with the webcast host, the meeting was neither broadcast or recorded. For that reason I can’t tell you what councillors, officers or other speakers said.

Local residents deserved to have the mine fully-restored – that’s unquestionable. Despite that, although officers from NPT and Bridgend will be on the receiving end of residents’ anger, realistically the plans are the best option on the table – though whether it’ll actually happen or not depends on the results of the call-in.

Opencast mining hit the headlines again with the Ffos-y-Fran protest camp in Merthyr Tydfil. I’m sure local campaigners will have appreciated the support drawn from far and wide, but ultimately most of the protesters won’t have to live with it and will be off to the next protest.
I’ve said it before, but Margam/Parc Slip serves as a warning to all communities facing the prospect of opencast expansion. Yes, jobs will be created. Yes, we still need coal for the foreseeable future – whether for industry or energy generation.

We also get companies like Celtic Energy running away from their responsibilites afterwards. So if you’re worried about this, when you cast your vote tomorrow, make sure it goes to a party that’ll tie companies’ shoelaces together when they do try and do a runner.

Just when you thought it was coming to an end, the saga has a little longer to go yet…..