Setback for opencast in Wales

Nant Llesg protest June 2015
Report from Coal Action Network

Yesterday’s (24/6/15) planning hearing for Miller Argent’s proposal to mine 6 million tonnes from the Nant Llesg site, in Caerphilly, South Wales, gave the best possible result. A great outcome for all those who have campaigned over the months and years against another enormous opencast adjacent to the controversial Ffos-y-Fran site.

The councillors voted unanimously against the proposal and the decision has now been deferred to a hearing on the 4th August for refusal. The planning team will write up the planning reasons for rejection and there will be a vote on them. The application was recommended for approval by the planning officers who seemed keen to push this, the councillors could not completely reject the application today as it had been recommended for approval.

It is possible that the mine could be approved in the August meeting, but unlikely.

22 local campaigners from The Green Valleys Alliance and United Valleys Action Group spoke with amazing clarity, passion and knowledge. Miller Argent closed their Ffos-y-fran opencast and bussed their workers to the hearing, dressed in new hi-viz jackets. There the workers proceeded to jeer like naughty boys and brag about the overtime they were being paid for attending.

Local people were concerned that the promised 240 jobs would not out weigh the job losses in the area, particularly green jobs. Companies on the Heads of Valleys Industrial Estate formed the Green Valleys Alliance as they were concerned that customers would be lost if an opencast were to be opened next to their businesses. There was concern that this would particularly affect women, who would not be offered replacement work in the mine. Cosmetics company Appleby and Richards said that they would be forced to move, if the application had been successful, as their clients want to know their high end products are manufactured in a clean environment; that it would not be possible to load products without them becoming covered in dust and visiting clients would move custom elsewhere.

Nant Llesg

The proposal was by Miller Argent who already run a monstrous mine in the area. Local people came and gave their real life experiences of living beside Ffos-y-fran. Alyson from the United Valleys Action Group described how the conditions living next to Ffos-y-Fran are worse than she had expected, saying they never open windows no matter how hot it is because of the dust and cannot dry washing outside. She described modern mining methods as “noisy, dirty, barbaric and mines should not operate within 5 miles of people.”

The RSPB speaker described that the proposal would contravene protection of lapwings and the uses of the Rhaslas pond on the site for ornithologists saying the developer admits that the damage would be significant, permanent and irreversible. The speaker for Friends of the Earth said that the application relied on information which was used for Ffos-y-Fran from 2004 and that if approved the working would release 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Hilary Williams spoke about the commoners’ original objection to the plan and the subsequent U-turn which the 70 commoners were not properly consulted about or notified of. This is believed to be because significant individuals within the commoners’ committee were paid off by the company. Another neighbour from Ffos-y-Fran described being paid cash in envelopes for cleaning cars and windows by the coal company off the record. Another mentioned the damage done to his property by the vibrations and blasting for which he has not received compensation. It was raised that the coal would likely have gone to Aberthaw which is already breaching EU air quality standards for NOx which has resulted in an EU court case. It was noted that in 2010 the site had been de-marked as a special landscape area but Miller Argent lobbied to get it changed to a coal area.

“ The health of the citizens of this area is more important than millions of pounds for Miller Argent,” said Councillor Carl Cuss.

The people speaking in favour of the application made presentations full of inaccuracies. For example a founding director of Miller Argent claimed that there are 8,000 jobs in mining. There were 3455 in the first quarter of 2015 in the whole of the UK [1]. The spokesperson from RWE also claimed there were 2,000 jobs in mines in Wales, there are 810. [1] He also claimed that Aberthaw is the second most efficient power station in the UK. Miller Argent claimed there would be jobs for women on the new site, but the miners they paid to come to the hearing were all men, and they clearly would have made any female staff attend as a showcase, had there been any.

The councillors all spoke against the scheme. Some commented that they had lived through mining in the area and feel that future generations deserve better. “Advantages for jobs do not out weigh the problems for people or the environment.” The tour the day before the hearing was said to be useful to the councillors who appreciated the open aspect of the land and the comparison between the natural contours of un-mined land with that of earlier opencasts. The site can be seen from a long way away. One noted that envelopes of cash for cleaning cars and windows was not acceptable.

The planning officer and Head of Regeneration and Planning both seemed to want to the councillors to approve. But the vote was unanimous.

Well done to all the people who have campaigned against the threat of a colossal mine for the next 25 years. Thank you to the planning committee for making the right decision. We excitedly await full rejection.

[1] Coal Authority, Production and Man power returns for the three month period January 2015 to March 2015


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