A review into Welsh coal tip safety laws is “close to conclusion”, the Welsh Government has said.

Mick Antoniw, Welsh Government Counsel General, gave the confirmation during Plenary this afternoon, and accused the UK government of “abdicating” its responsibility to Wales.

The Law Commission review, led by Nicholas Paines QC, is currently working on reforms to existing legislation, which it has called “outdated”.

Late last year, The National reported that councils have “no legislative power” to stabilise coal tips on private land, and authorities are also unable to compel private landowners to carry out the works themselves – even if the tip is categorised as high risk.

Under current laws, the council is only able to act if a tip has moved to such an extent that it judges a collapse is relatively imminent. Even where this is the case, the council must also give the landowner 21 days’ notice, and in that time the landowner can appeal the order.

The National Wales: "Old Smokey" coal tip, Llanwonno (Picture source: Jon Pountney)"Old Smokey" coal tip, Llanwonno (Picture source: Jon Pountney)

The majority of disused coal tips in Wales are privately owned, following extensive land sales when the UK coal industry was reprivatized under John Major in the mid-nineties.

Speaking on the situation, the Counsel General said today: “The issue of legal liability becomes much more complex because of the weakness of the legislative framework that was created after 1994, where you have tips that are now in different ownerships.

“Some are still in the ownership of the Coal Authority, who remain responsible for them - the issues arise as to whether the responsibility only relates to [immediate] safety risks or broader longer term risks.

“Whilst all this is going on, and whilst the UK Government has clearly abdicated - I think, quite shamefully - any responsibility in respect of the pre-devolution legacy of the coal industry, we, nevertheless, have to ensure that our communities are safe.

“Consequentially, the Law Commission has been carrying out its work.

“I believe that work is close to conclusion.”

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Mr Antoniw added: “The arguments in respect of funding will carry on and remain, but as a Welsh Government, our priority is towards the safety of the people of Wales and our communities.

“So, within the next three-year budget, there's £44.4 million in there for safety work. We've also provided £800,000 to the Coal Authority in respect of their carrying out inspections of high-risk tips, and there is still work going on in respect of the evaluation and analysis of what those are, where they are and what the levels of safety are.

“I understand the Minister for Climate Change has commented on that in the past and will no doubt do so in the near future.”

Last week The National reported on a 2014 report on coal tip repair works by Rhondda Cynon Taff Council, which suggested that the Welsh Government – under then-First Minister Carwyn Jones and former Finance Minister Jane Hutt – would not fund repairs unless a “business case” for profitable future land development could be made by the local authority.

RCT Council has since confirmed that this was the case, commenting: “Beyond the Albion Tip, no funding was available other than for those sites which potentially offered the opportunity for redevelopment to create, for example, employment opportunities.”

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