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Campaign to stop Aberpergwm - the story so far

Discovery

At the end of November 2021, we noticed the licence application for an extension to 'Aberpergwm Colliery' in South Wales on the little-publicised webpage of the Coal Authority (regulator for all coal mining across the UK). This webpage contains a listing of all coal mine licences and licence applications and is a good one to bookmark and check back regularly.

We noticed the application was made in 16/09/2020, so we knew it could be awarded a licence tomorrow or in a year's time. But after checking no other group was campaigning on this already, we sprung into action to ensure licencing wasn't just waved through. In early December we started raising awareness of the licence application over social media, and shared key facts about the coal mine.

Governments deny responsibility

We spoke with Minister Lee Waters of the Welsh Government who insisted the his Government cannot use their powers under the Wales Act 2017 to stop the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion - since the licence's origins dates back before the Wales Act 2017 came into force. Therefore, it was for the UK Government to stop this licence. But the UK Government publicly disagreed in a BBC article on November 4th, arguing that the Welsh Government can apply the Wales Act 2017, and for that reason it would not be appropriate for the UK Government to step in.

In short, both the Welsh and UK Governments pointed the finger of blame at each other and neither would take responsibility nor resolve the issue between them, which actually had the power to intervene.

Mass email action

Coal Action Network launched a mass email campaign on 20/12/2021, encouraging our supporters and the public to contact Ministers Lee Waters of the Welsh Government, and Michael Gove of the UK Government. By the end of December, over 4000 emails had been sent to both Ministers, asking them to agree which government has the power to stop the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion - and to step in to stop the licence.

Both Minister failed to respond to any of the 4000 emails, ignoring the thousands of concerns expressed to them.

Open letter to Welsh & UK Governments

After both Ministers Lee Waters and Michael Gove failed to respond to any of the 4000 emails, and ignore the thousands of concerns expressed to them, Coal Action Network followed with an open letter to them. This letter summarised the main concerns that our supporters and the public wrote to them with, and asked for a response to these concerns.

Again, both Ministers failed to respond and we were getting increasingly concerned their inaction and refusal to communicate would let this licence application slip through and commit us all to continued coal mining at Aberpergwm until 2039.

42m more tonnes of coal gets licenced

On  25th January 2022, the Coal Authority awarded Aberpergwm its coal mine expansion licence, quietly updating its listing of coal mining applications and licences. In response to an email from Coal Action Network, the Coal Authority claimed it could not refuse the licence on any grounds apart from a narrow criteria set by the 1994 Coal Industry Act. If an applicant meets this criteria, the Coal Authority claims it must grant it the licence.

Coal Action Network contacted Richard Buxton Solicitors to find out if there is still any hope of stopping this coal mine, and whether the Welsh Government can still intervene - as the UK Government claims it can.

CAN visits Aberpergwm & Glynneath town

In February 2022, CAN staff visited the site of the Aberpergwm coal mine and met with local people in Glynneath to deepen our understanding of local views and awareness of the looming coal mine expansion. We learned that people living in towns near to the coal mine felt reliant on the coal mine because it brought some business into an area struggling economically and with underfunded services such as public transport links between nearby towns. We have heard similar stories of other towns, forced by a lack of Government investment, to choose between a coal mine with HGV traffic, noise, and disruption, or further job losses and closures.

We also found only low levels of awareness that the coal mine was recently licenced for a massive expansion, indicating that coal mine operator, EnergyBuild Mining Ltd, had not communicated this with local people.

Welsh groups take action

Coal Action Network reached out to Wales-based environmental groups and engaged them on the issue of the impending Aberpergwm coal mine expansion licence. After speaking of 100 million tonnes of CO2 and up to 1.17 million tonnes of methane expected to be generated from this expansion, they took action.

Actions have included blockading the site office at the coal mine location on 11th March, and a theatrical noise demonstration outside the Senedd on 17th March 2022 which was attended by Wales Green Party leader Anthony Slaughter and Liberal Democrat party leader, Jane Dodds, who both delivered speeches on the need to prevent this coal mine expansion.

Legal challenge is launched

Richard Buxton Solicitors and Barrister Estelle Dehon (QC) represented Coal Action Network, believing there to be a case to argue:

  1. The Welsh Government can apply the Wales Act 2017 to the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion licence, meaning the licence won't be valid unless the Welsh Government formally approves it
  2. The Coal Authority can consider factors beyond the narrow criteria it claims it's limited to when deciding a licence application.

After 'pre-action letters' to the Welsh Government and UK Coal Authority, Coal Action Network's legal team submitted an application in early April for a judicial review on these grounds.

Crowdfunder for £65,000 legal and court fees

Coal Action Network is a small grassroots organisation, so we need to fundraise £65,000 to challenge the Welsh Government and Coal Authority in a judicial review. These funds are needed to pay for our legal costs, potentially a portion of the other side's if we lose, as well as court fees.

But, if we win, we would set a legal precedent that could make it significantly harder for future coal mining across the UK, potentially laying a 475 year industry to rest and helping to safeguard future generations.

Please share and donate to our CrowdJustice crowd funder.

Application for a full Judicial Review approved

Our legal team has been informed that our legal challenge will be heard by a senior High Court judge on 15th-16th March 2023. Permission to proceed to a full Judicial Review in the High Court indicates we have a solid case and puts us an important step closer to reversing January's decision to licence a 42 million tonne expansion of the Aberpergwm coal mine. Our crack legal team, Richard Buxton Solicitors and Barrister Estelle Dehon QC, will challenge the parts that The UK Coal Authority and the Welsh Government played in this disastrous licence slipping through.

Senedd (Welsh parliament) briefing

Coal Action Network held an informal briefing in the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) sponsored by Jane Dodds, Member of the Senedd (MS).

The event was attended by MSs and their staff who heard why the proposal to extend Aberpergwm coal mine should be stopped and how Universal Basic Income could answer some of the issues for workers during the transition to a low carbon economy.

Judicial Review hearing

On 15 March 2023, we arrived outside the Cardiff courts for the Judicial Review hearing, to press teams and a strong demonstration in support of our case for a more sustainable future in Wales and the UK. We feel confident that our legal team made convincing and consistent arguments rooted in the law. A decision should be made by the judge in 2 weeks to 3 month from today. Read more...

On 19th May 2023, the Judicial Review decision upheld the mine to continuing to operate until 2039 to the tune of over 100 million tonnes of CO2. This judgement comes fewer than two months after the IPCC released a report sounding the ‘final warning’ of irreversible and catastrophic climate change. Although ultimately the judge’s decision upholds the Aberpergwm coal mine in the midst of our climate crisis, the judgment agrees with our legal team on a number of crucial points, creating some optimism around a possible appeal. We'll need to weigh up time and funding with the chance of a successful outcome. Read more...

On the 19th of May, The Hon. Mrs Justice Steyn DBE decided in favour of the Welsh Government and Coal Authority, but granted us permission to appeal the decision about the Welsh Government less than 2 weeks later, on 31st May.

The grounds for this appeal are:

Read more...

Published: 25.04.2022

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