Ffos-y-fran: the UK's huge illegal coal operation

What is Ffos-y-fran?

A large opencast coal mine in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, mining primarily thermal coal. The mining company won planning permission in February 2005, after appealing its rejection. Opencast coal mining began in 2007, in the face of stiff local protest. On 06th September 2022, planning permission for the opencast coal mining came to an end, 15 years and 3 months after it started. See our other posts about Ffos-y-fran, key company and mine facts and figures, and our campaign timeline from September 2022.

What’s the scale of illegal mining?

Based on the most recently available official statistics from The Coal Authority, since planning permission ended, by the end of May 2023, nearly 300,000 tonnes of coal would have been mined without any attempt to stop it, at the climate cost of almost a MILLION tonnes of CO2. At a rate of over 1,000 tonnes each day, every day this goes on for, matters. Every day this illegal coal operation continues, produces the CO2 equivalent of burning 1.5 MILLION litres of petrol.

What do you mean by “illegal coal mining”?

Planning permission for the Ffos-y-fran coal mine ended on 06 September 2022. Not only does that mean the mining company, Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd, is in breach of planning control, it also means that it has no licence, as the Coal Authority require, as a condition of that licence, that the company has active planning permission to mine the coal – something that Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd hasn’t had for months.

Why hasn’t the local council/planning authority put a stop to this?

The local council (Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council) refused calls by local residents to take enforcement action for 7 months because it claimed Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd was not mining coal at Ffos-y-fran, but was forced by Coal Action Network to eventually admit that actually, yes, coal mining had been happening.

Then the council refused to enforce the stop of illegal coal mining until after the application to extend Ffos-y-fran had been decided by Councillors on 26th April 2023, which is not unusual practice within planning… but given the irreversible, daily harm occurring at Ffos-y-fran, enforcement action should have been taken.

A month after the unanimous rejection of the Ffos-y-fran extension application by Councillors, no enforcement action has been taken.  The most recent reason given by the council is that they are ‘investigating’ and are trying to ‘hold meetings’ with Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd… all the while, the company nears the 9 month extension it originally applied for in illegal coal mining.

Why doesn’t the Welsh Government step in to stop its policies uphold its policies?

The Welsh Government has said that it wouldn’t intervene in Ffos-y-fran until the council decides whether it’ll take enforcement action or not. But the problem with this approach is that the council has already stalled, and failed to take expedient enforcement action to stop the ongoing coal mining. This inaction has so far resulted in 270,000 tonnes of coal, adding 840,000 tonnes of CO2 to our climate crisis - all without planning permission and in direct contravention of national policy.

Where’s the evidence?

There are multiple drone videos of ongoing coal mining, such as the one below filmed on 19th May 2023. There are also many photos of laden coal trucks leaving the Ffos-y-fran site and unloading at the nearby coal depot with coal trains arriving and leaving, and lorries of customers coming and going. This is happening at a rate and scale that is not compatible with selling off old coal stocks – particularly since coal mining was supposed to end over 8 months ago. We also have emails from the Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council confirming that ongoing coal mining is occurring at Ffos-y-fran. One email seems to suggest that the mining company may even have lied to the Council by claiming it wasn’t coal mining when the Council asked.

So what needs to happen?

Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council should issue a Temporary Stop Notice – an emergency enforcement option to be used in cases just like this. It almost instantly stops the defined activity for a period of up to 28 days. This gives the council the time it may need to assess and enforce long-term planning control, without further harm being done in the meantime. On the week of the 08th May 2023, the council received over 7,000 emails from our supporters demand a Temporary Stop Notice is issued to finally end illegal coal mining at Ffos-y-fan.

The Welsh Government needs to step in without further delay to protect its climate policies, given Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council’s failure to take the expedient enforcement action described above,. If the Welsh Government exercises its power under S182 of the TCPA 1990, it will be implementing the local democratic decision made by elected councillors on 26th April, not overriding it. And immediate action is needed by the Welsh Government due to the contravention of its own policies and irreversible harm being caused on a daily basis. On the week of the 08th May 2023, the Welsh Government Ministers received over 3,000 emails from our supporters demanding that they use their powers to intervene and finally end illegal coal mining at Ffos-y-fan.

Published: 22/05/2023

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Maggie Mason
Maggie Mason
6 months ago

As you say, Stop Notices are precisely designed for this situation. It is crazy for the Council to wait until the mining company will come to a meeting. These people will scrape financial benefit out of this huge hole in the ground until the authorities stop them.

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