Loose Anti Opencast Network Press Release, 15 March 2013
Communities across the South of Wales, living close to proposed or actual opencast mine proposals in the Rhonnda (the Bryn Defaid proposal) , Neath and Port Talbot (the East Pit proposal and the Margam Parc (Park) Slip Extension proposal ) and Gwent (the Nant Llesg proposal) are all waiting the final decision that the new Welsh Minister for Housing and Regeneration, Carl Seargent has to make on whether to uphold the Inspector’s opinion that planning permission be granted for the proposed Varteg Hill opencast mine in Torfaen.
This information comes from the the Loose Anti Opencast Netwok’s latest review on opencast site planning developments for Wales which is also published today and available from this web site: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2013/03/507769.html
At stake could be the continuation of whether Welsh planning policy will follow its own published MTAN guidelines that indicate that there should normally be a 500m buffer zone between areas of human habitation and the boundaries of any new opencast site. In this case, there is a school, Ysgol Bryn Onnen School, 120m away from the site boundary.
The Loose Anti Opencast Network (LAON), a UK wide organisation representing 24 groups opposed to opencast developments in inappropriate areas, has written to the Welsh Minister for Housing and Regeneration asking for the Appeal to be rejected. In its letter, Steve Leary, LAON’s Co-ordinator points out that:
“ I am aware that your predecessor recently made an announcement about the temporary need to take the state of the broader economy into account when reaching planning decisions, but in this case, because the decision to be made arises from having held a Public Inquiry, the repercussions could be long term rather than short term, if you uphold the Appeal, This is because it will cited as a precedent, to be used to support any current and future opencast mine application in Wales, despite how close the boundaries of the proposed site are to where people live.
“I am also aware that there is a previous local authority decision in Wales that breached the 500m Buffer Zone policy guidance, when approval was given for the Glan Lash Small Mine, for the extraction of 100,000 tonnes of coal by Carmarthenshire Council last year. This however did not set a legal precedent.
“However, the Court of Appeal’s recent judgement, in 2011, in rejecting an Appeal by Celtic Energy to allow an extension to its Margum Surface Mine site is a precedent. At the time it was assumed that this strengthened the MTAN guidance on 500m Buffer Zones. This set a case law precedence, which ought to have a bearing on this decision and lead to rejecting the Varteg Appeal.”
Steve Leary, for LAON said, “These are anxious days, not only for communities in Wales potentially affected by the prospect of opencast mining but also those living next to the 14 proposed opencast sites in Scotland and the 13 proposed opencast sites in England are anxious as well. Although planning policy has been devolved to both the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Executive, what happens in one country can influence policy developments elsewhere. We can see this already, where the adoption in England of the new  National Planning Policy Framework for example , seems to have influenced the recent change in Welsh Planning Policy which now  stresses the needs of the economy be taken into account when reaching any planning decision, as mentioned in our letter to the Minister. Likewise, any weakening of the Welsh MTAN 500m buffer zone policy guidance will weaken the chance for a similar policy to be introduced in England. If Varteg Hill is approved by the Minister, it will be a black day for those who have legitimate and reasonable grounds for opposing similar applications as it will make a nonsense of having a 500m buffer zone policy. Relying on such a policy with which to oppose any future opencast mine application in Wales, will have well and truly, hit the buffers.”
The Loose Anti-Opencast Network (LAON) has been in existence since 2009. It functions as a medium through which to oppose open cast mine applications and works with groups where local people feel that such a development is inappropriate.
Steve Leary, LAON’S  Co-ordinator, at infoatlaon@yahoo.com
You can now follow LAON on twitter @ http://twitter.com/seftonchase