Welsh Government proposals for new laws governing coal tip safety will be published in May, the Deputy Climate Change Minister has announced.

The news comes following last week’s Law Commission report, which highlighted weaknesses in the current law - dating back to the late 1960s - and made recommendations for change.

These recommendations, according to deputy minister Lee Waters, will “help shape” the Welsh Government’s plans.

The precise locations of higher risk coal tips, however, will not yet be published, owing to ongoing “data protection issues” relating to tips located on privately-owned land.

READ MORE: Coal tip safety body needed in Wales, Law Commission report finds

“The safety of communities living in the shadow of these tips has always been our priority,” Mr Waters added.

“We have provided financial support to enable local authorities to repair and maintain coal tips, and we have dedicated a further £44.4m over the next three years so this vital work can continue.” 

The Deputy Minister said the white paper will be a chance to seek the public’s views on the Welsh Government's plans, which will provide a “consistent approach to tip management, monitoring and oversight”.

Last month marked two years since the tip collapse in Tylorstown, Rhondda Cynon Taf, that sparked fresh concerns about the stability of Wales’ more than 2,500 disused coal tips.

 

 

Since that time local resident Phil Thomas, who lives directly beneath a coal tip in Ynyshir, has been campaigning for action. He called the Welsh Government response “painfully slow”.

“It’s been over two years since the landslide in Tylorstown,” Mr Thomas told The National. 

“It has been painfully slow so far, and we’re still quite a way off from legislative change. 

“We need assurance today that coal tips will be proactively managed.

“I still ultimately believe all high risk tips should be landscaped - as was done in the past with Penallta, Aberbargoed, Taf Bargoed in Trelewis, and Cwm Clydach near Tonypandy, to name a few.”

The National Wales: A coal tip near Abercynon, south Wales. (Picture: Jon Pountney)A coal tip near Abercynon, south Wales. (Picture: Jon Pountney)

After the Tylorstown tip collapse, the Welsh Government charged the Law Commission with reviewing existing coal tip safety regulations.

This is currently governed by the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969, a law passed in the wake of the Aberfan Disaster.

Under the Act, a council can order the owner of a disused tip on private land to carry out stabilisation and repair work, or even undertake the work itself, but can only do so if the tip has moved to such an extent that the council 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 Act does, however, give local authorities the power to enter private land “at any reasonable time” to carry out tests and inspections, providing the landowner is given two days’ notice. 

The National Wales: "Old Smokey" coal tip, Llanwonno, located near to the collapsed Tylorstown tip. (Picture: Jon Pountney)"Old Smokey" coal tip, Llanwonno, located near to the collapsed Tylorstown tip. (Picture: Jon Pountney)

The National previously reported that tip safety inspections were often limited to a basic visual check and a checklist printed on two sides of paper, with reports lacking in detail and sometimes inconsistent - though it’s understood that a new system of inspection has been trialled this winter.

The Welsh Government says it’s continuing to fund the UK Coal Authority to carry out inspections together with local authorities, and is working with partners - including the UK’s space industry - to test “world-first” technologies to provide information on ground movement and water levels.

READ MORE: Coal tips: Welsh Gov wanted 'business case' to fund repairs

The Law Commission published its report last week, recommending the creation of a new regulatory body responsible for monitoring and maintaining the safety of Welsh coal tips, along with a publicly accessible register of the sites.

The report also proposed strengthened powers for authorities to enter private land in order to undertake inspections and remediation work, as well as the introduction of new penalties if new legal obligations to ensure safety are not met.

It did not suggest how remediation work should be funded, leaving that up to the Welsh Government to decide.

The National Wales: A smaller tip collapse occurred in Wattstown in late 2020. Remediation work began in late 2021. (Picture: Jon Pountney)A smaller tip collapse occurred in Wattstown in late 2020. Remediation work began in late 2021. (Picture: Jon Pountney)

The Deputy Climate Change Minister this afternoon reiterated previous calls for the UK government to provide a funding boost.

“The Welsh Government funding settlement does not reflect the disproportionate costs of addressing the UK’s coal-mining legacy,” Mr Waters said.

“It is wholly unfair and, frankly, untenable for Westminster to continue to argue that Welsh communities shoulder these costs.”

Though coal tips predate the establishment of the Senedd, campaigner Phil Thomas is frustrated at the continued emphasis on Westminster’s role. Moving forward with devolution, he believes, meant taking responsibility for Welsh coal tips.

“Perhaps it was a bad negotiation on their part or perhaps they thought the European Union would always be there to help fund reclamation,” he said.

 

 

Mr Thomas does still think Westminster should contribute, and he also believes that any private land remediated using public money should then be taken back into public ownership.

He has called for all coal tips in Wales to be “reclaimed”, meaning significant landscaping works would be carried out, allowing the land to be put to some kind of beneficial public use - as parkland or woods, for example.

READ MORE: Welsh coal tip legacy: 'Doesn't anybody care?'

It’s an idea brought up in the Law Commission’s report, but not explicitly recommended - again, the decision was left to the Welsh Government.

“Anything less than reclamation is an insult to our environment at a time when the Welsh Government are supposedly moving toward environmental sustainability,” Mr Thomas said.

“If they fall short, they are showing the people of the Welsh valleys how little consideration they truly have for the environment and the safety of the public.”

At least 327 Welsh coal tips are classified as higher risk.

Though the specific locations of these higher risk sites are not yet publically available, the highest concentration is in the Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority area (75).

Do you live beneath a coal tip? Get in touch: news@nationalwales.co.uk 

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