The Law Commission of England and Wales has launched a consultation on a proposed new coal tip safety regime in Wales that would replace outdated laws and improve how coal tips risks are managed.

The Commission, which reviews and recommends reform to law in Wales and England, says a new safety regime would help enhance coal tip safety and ensure tips are dealt with in a consistent way.

Coal tips are currently maintained and monitored by Natural Resources Wales and the Coal Authority, however the commission proposes the creation of a new supervisory authority with responsibility for the safety of all disused coal tips.

The new authority would maintain a register of all disused tips in Wales, arrange inspections, create management plans, and introduce enhanced safety regimes for tips designated high risk.

Over 2,000 coal tips remain in ex-coal mining villages across Wales.

Without careful management, tips are at risk of instability, landslides, flooding and pollution. Last year, a tip above the village of Tylorstown in the Rhondda valley saw 60,000 tonnes of ground shift above the village.

The National Wales: The Aberfan disaster continues to cast a dark shadow. PAThe Aberfan disaster continues to cast a dark shadow. PA

Geologists have warned Wales is more prone to these incidents due to climate change and more extreme weather.  

The UK Treasury estimates that more than £500 million could be needed to ensure the safety of tips in Wales over the next 10 years.

The Commission believes that the current law, introduced with the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969 following an investigation into the Aberfan disaster, is unfit for purpose.

Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner at the Law Commission of England and Wales, said: “The laws governing coal tips in Wales date from an earlier age and no longer offer adequate tools to manage Wales’s legacy of coal tips.

“Only a small minority of tips have the potential to be a danger but new legislation is needed to enable all tips to be effectively monitored, preventive work to be done to avert danger and remedial work to be carried out to reduce any existing risks.

“We think our proposed reforms would significantly improve the management of coal tips and especially the highest-risk tips. We are keen to receive feedback on our proposals to help us to ensure that we achieve the best design for coal tip safety management.”

In October, the UK government contributed £2.5m toward the cleaning up and securing the Tylorstown site, however the Welsh Government has said the total cost was "significantly more".

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Repair work in Rhondda Cynon Taf alone is estimated to cost at least £82.5m.

Welsh MPs including Chris Bryant, Beth Winter, Chris Elmore and Alex Davies-Jones have said it would be "unfair" for the "poorest communities in the UK to bear the full costs of this work".

Welcoming the commission's proposals, Julie James, the Welsh Government's new minister for climate change said: "The challenge presented by coal tips in Wales is a clear illustration of how responding to the climate emergency is fundamentally a question of social justice.

“To protect the wellbeing of communities who live in the presence of coal tips, the legislation needs to be improved to reflect advances in scientific knowledge, the changes in our economy and society, and the implications of our changing climate.

"The extensive work completed by the Law Commission to bring forward this consultation has been a part of wider collaborative efforts between government and communities.

“Changes to the law will be one important part of creating the basis for us to continue to work together to take action to heal these industrial scars and create a stronger, greener and fairer Wales."

The Law Commission will consult on its proposals until September 10. It will then develop final recommendations for the Government with the aim of publishing a final report by early 2022.

What is being proposed in detail?

To improve how coal tips are regulated and maintained, and to minimize risk of dangerous incidents, the Law Commission is proposing the creation of a new regulatory framework. This would promote consistency in the management of coal tips across the country and avert danger by introducing a proactive rather than reactive approach.

The consultation seeks views on the proposed framework including the introduction of:

  • A single supervisory authority with a duty to supervise the management of all disused tips, which is able to monitor all disused tips and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements to a consistent standard across Wales.
  • A coal tips register, compiled and maintained by the supervisory authority which would include a wide range of information including potential risks associated with each disused tip.
  • Inspections of each tip for the purpose of a risk assessment and designing a tip management plan. The inspection could potentially cover all potential risks including the risk of tip slides but also flooding, pollution and any other risks.
  • For those coal tips designated as high risk, an enhanced safety regime with increased involvement of the supervisory authority to manage the tip and reduce the chance of significant dangerous incidents occurring.

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