A group of local authorities in the south east of Wales is planning to acquire the site of the former coal-fired Aberthaw Power Station, The National can reveal.

It is understood the Cardiff Capital Region group of councils is seeking to build a tidal energy facility and energy park on the site in collaboration with the so-called Western Gateway; that is the title for a group of councils spread across the south east of Wales and the south west of England. 

Last year, the Aberthaw site, which is currently owned by energy giant RWE, was long listed as a potential location for an experimental nuclear fusion plant.

At the time, the Cardiff Capital Region, who spearheaded the bid, said: “We’ve also put forward an Expression of Interest to create a tidal lagoon at Aberthaw, as its geography and geology are perfect for that type of facility – and it’s this type of thinking which is now needed to grasp all the opportunities on offer.”

The National Wales: Aberthaw Power Station from the sky. The entire site is around 500 acres. Photo: Ben Salter CC BY 2.0Aberthaw Power Station from the sky. The entire site is around 500 acres. Photo: Ben Salter CC BY 2.0

In October, the Local Democracy Reporting Service reported that a new commission was being set up by the Western Gateway to explore building a barrage across the Severn estuary for tidal energy. A month later, it was announced that Aberthaw had missed out on being shortlisted for the nuclear fusion plant. But plans for a tidal facility have remained on the cards. 

The National submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Cardiff Capital Region at the beginning of December requesting information regarding the sale of Aberthaw Power Station.

By law, a response should have been received by January 4. At the time of writing, no response has been received from the group, which is a public body, and an internal review has been requested as a result. 

An approach has also been made via phone to the Cardiff Capital Region this week to discuss the group’s intentions but The National was told it would be unable to comment in the media until January 31, which is when the next cabinet meeting is being held. RWE was also contacted but said it couldn’t comment as the acquisition process was “ongoing”.

According to documents available on the Cardiff Capital Region's website, a meeting of the group was held last month, in which the "purchase, demolition and remediation of Aberthaw Power Station site" was discussed.

However the report regarding the acquisition of the site was not made publicly available, with the minutes of the meeting citing Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 as the reason it was restricted from view - "in all the circumstances of the case the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information."

What is the Cardiff Capital Region?

Ten local authorities make up the Cardiff Capital Region - Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend County Borough, Caerphilly County Borough, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough, Monmouthshire, Newport, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Torfaen, and Vale of Glamorgan. It also includes local businesses, organisations and is supported by the Welsh Government. 

Certain councillors who represent each of the ten local authorities meet periodically to discuss ongoing plans and projects. 

"The Cardiff Capital Region is transforming the economy, business landscape and potential for inclusive prosperity across the most populous region of Wales", is how is describes itself on its website.

The National Wales: The Aberthaw Centre for Energy and Environment at Aberthaw Power Station which opened in 2011. As seen from the Wales Coast Path in front. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe Aberthaw Centre for Energy and Environment at Aberthaw Power Station which opened in 2011. As seen from the Wales Coast Path in front. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

A brief history of Aberthaw Power Station

The coal-fired power station at Aberthaw was the very last in Wales. It officially closed its doors in 2020 and was decommissioned during the pandemic. Last March, it was advertised by Savills estate agent as being for sale. 

Construction on the site began in 1957 and Aberthaw A began generating electricity from burning coal in 1963.

The building of the station was a mammoth engineering project. It involved re-routing the Afon Ddawan - the River Thaw and creating a long sea wall which blocked off the ancient Aberthaw harbour. The entire coastline from Fontygary to Gileston was transformed with countless tonnes of concrete, where once stood farms, a links golf course and a guest house. 

The National Wales: The mouth of the canalled Afon Ddawan - River Thaw, which was re-routed from its original location when Aberthaw Power Station was built in the 1950s. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe mouth of the canalled Afon Ddawan - River Thaw, which was re-routed from its original location when Aberthaw Power Station was built in the 1950s. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

With energy needs increasing, the construction of Aberthaw B began in 1967 with the new plant generating electricity by 1971. 

Aberthaw once described itself as "one of the most efficient coal-fired power stations in the UK". The power station burned around 6000 tonnes of coal per day, with three quarters sourced from Welsh coal mines, and the remainder from abroad.

In 2015 the European Commission announced it would be taking the UK government to court over the levels of pollution emitted by Aberthaw Power Station, which were above the legal limits. In the same year, a report by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace had revealed how Aberthaw Power Station was emitting the third highest level of nitrogen oxide in the whole of the European Union. 

The UK government eventually announced that all coal-fired power stations would have to shut down by 2025.

The National Wales: Climate campaigners staged a blockade at Aberthaw Power Station when it was still operational, to protest emissions levels. Photo: Reclaim the PowerClimate campaigners staged a blockade at Aberthaw Power Station when it was still operational, to protest emissions levels. Photo: Reclaim the Power

What is the political reaction to the plans?

The Vale of Glamorgan Council are currently undergoing a public consultation regarding the updating of the county's Local Development Plan to 2026, which is what sets out the proposals for future development and use of land in their area. No mention is made of Aberthaw Power Station in the Draft Review Report.

The National contacted local political representatives to garner their views on the Cardiff Capital Region's plans.

Cllr Gordon Kemp represents the village of East Aberthaw as part of the Rhoose ward on the Vale of Glamorgan Council.

Mr Kemp, who sits on the Vale's planning committee, was unaware the Cardiff Capital Region - of which he is not a member - were intending to acquire the site: "What concerns me is that there is no specific information in the public domain yet. And there are a lot of concerns locally about this. I'm worried that people are being kept in the dark over this. 

"Many promises were made to the local community at the time of the power station's construction."

The National Wales: A section of the canalled Afon Ddawan - River Thaw, which was re-routed when Aberthaw Power Station was constructed. Photo: Siriol GriffithsA section of the canalled Afon Ddawan - River Thaw, which was re-routed when Aberthaw Power Station was constructed. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

The MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, Alun Cairns, was also not aware of Cardiff Capital Region's plans.

In a statement to The National, Mr Cairns said: “The Aberthaw site is extremely important to the local community. The Vale Council and Cardiff Capital Region need to prioritise local views. 

“This is a brownfield site and I understand that parts of the estate are contaminated. CCR and the Vale council need to be transparent about their plans.

“Before any money is spent on the site, the local community must be involved.  Issuing redacted statements is worrying.  What have they got to hide?  Without an open and transparent approach, the community will fear the worst.”

The member of the Senedd for the Vale of Glamorgan, Jane Hutt, told The National: "I continue to ask questions and raise concerns about the future of Aberthaw following the decommissioning of the plant in 2020. It is vital that decisions made benefit local people and the environment."

The National Wales: The empty Aberthaw Power Station as seen from the Wales Coast Path. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe empty Aberthaw Power Station as seen from the Wales Coast Path. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

What is the local reaction to the plans?

Bob Dickens is a chartered engineer with decades of experience in the field of renewable energy, and lives locally with his wife, Glenda. He told The National he was "flabbergasted" by the plans: "Obviously after what happened with the Swansea tidal lagoon, something like this requires a lot of investigation and a huge amount of money. And how much is it going to generate compared to the coal-fired power station which was generating more than 1,500 megawatts? 

"Our local elected officials don't seem to have any idea about this either, which is just crazy. 

"RWE, who own the place, are comitted to renewable energy. So why would they not be involved in a renewable energy facility at Aberthaw? It doesn't make sense to me at all."

The National Wales: The Aberthaw Power Station pulverised ash tip with the smoke stack behind. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe Aberthaw Power Station pulverised ash tip with the smoke stack behind. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

Sara Turner moved to the village of East Aberthaw in 1990 with her husband Paul. A few years after they had moved in, the power station announced they’d begin disposing of the ash generated from burning the coal by building a tip. The ash mound grew quickly, and the couple became involved in ongoing community campaigns to prevent the ash tip from getting even higher.

Eventually, in 2006, the power station relented and capped the mound with grass. In recent years, there have been increasing reports of slippage and a “bulge” forming on the eastern side of the tip.

“We used to be able to see the sea when we moved in,” Sara told The National. “But they kept building the tip higher and higher, so that’s not been the case for more than twenty years.

“The people of this area have lived with toxic fumes and dust for decades, so on the face of it, clean renewable energy from a tidal lagoon sounds great. However, my concerns centre around who is going to pay to remediate that site. It’s toxic, riddled with asbestos and lord knows what else.

The National Wales: Signs warning passers by on the Wales Coast Path of the toxic nature of Aberthaw Power Station. Photo: Siriol GriffithsSigns warning passers by on the Wales Coast Path of the toxic nature of Aberthaw Power Station. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

"Are RWE NPower going to just offload it and not take responsibility? They’ve profited from that site for years, so surely it should be up to them to sort it out. 

“If it’s a consortium of local authorities buying the site, will the taxpayer be picking up the tab? Or beyond that, if they’re bringing in external funding from a private company, where will the profits be going? Wales has been exploited for its resources for far too long and it’s time for that to end.

"Also, who are the Cardiff Capital Region? Are they accountable to us? And if so, how? We’ve got local elections coming up in May. Can we vote the Cardiff Capital Region out if we don’t agree with what they’re doing? No we can't and that doesn’t sound very democratic to me.”

The National Wales: Members of Barry and Vale Friends of the Earth stand in front of the Aberthaw Power Station pulverised ash mound. Photo: Siriol GriffithsMembers of Barry and Vale Friends of the Earth stand in front of the Aberthaw Power Station pulverised ash mound. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

Barry and Vale Friends of the Earth have been investigating plans for the Aberthaw Power Station site since it was decommissioned. Environmental campaigner, Max Wallis, told The National: "This complex site must be restored to a sustainable state which is beneficial to the local community. 

"This site has huge liabilities connected with the sea wall being breached during storms and the ash tip destabilising. 

"We need to see firm plans for the conservation of the nature reserve which lies in the old Thaw valley where the river used to run before it was re-routed. 

"There is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Aberthaw, which must be conserved and protected. 

"We were told when the power station came that they would restore it to what it was before, when they decommissioned it, and documents show that this was the case. It was a recreational area before on a beautiful section of coastline at Limpert Bay. People came to enjoy it and the power station has destroyed that. We want it brought back." 

READ MORE: Menter Môn’s Morlais tidal energy scheme consents secured

It's not the first time a tidal lagoon has been considered at Aberthaw. Over the years many tidal lagoon and barrage schemes have been mooted up and down the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel, which has the second highest tide on the planet.

The last time plans were laid out at Aberthaw was in 2015 when a company called Kepler Energy revealed designs for a 30MW tidal energy fence between Aberthaw and Minehead on the opposite Somerset coast.

It remains to be seen whether the latest plans by the Cardiff Capital Region will come to fruition. 

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