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Ffos-y-fran: timeline of illegal coal mining

Timeline

01 September 2022: Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd applies for a S.73 time extension to mine coal from Ffos-y-fran, and to accordingly delay and vary restoration works.

06 September 2022: Planning permission ends for coal mining at the Ffos-y-fran site, after 15 years and 3 months of operations.

12 September 2022: first reports to MTCBC have been made by local residents of coaling beyond the end of planning permission.

13 September 2022: Local residents submit letters of objection to the Ffos-y-fran extension application.

20 September 2022: CAN submits a letter of objection to the Ffos-y-fran extension application.

27 September 2022: Local residents were supplied with a statement from the Local Planning Authority via their Assembly Member stating; '“If coal mining operations continue on site, this would result in a breach of the planning conditions and may be subject to enforcement action. At this stage because a planning application has been submitted, which seeks to amend to the current permission and enable operations to continue on site, it would not normally be expedient to take enforcement action until that application has been determined…”.

14 October 2022: Local Residents apply to the Planning Directorate (Wales) asking them to 'call-in' the planning application for it to be determined by the Welsh Government

23 October 2022: CAN launches a 38 Degrees petition for Welsh Ministers to call in and reject the application to extend Ffos-y-fran.

12 January 2023: two local residents hand-deliver petition with over 20,000 signatures to the Welsh Government to call in and reject the application to extend Ffos-y-fran.

12 January 2023: CAN emails the head of planning at MTCBC for confirmation whether coal mining is—or has been—occurring at Ffos-y-fran beyond the end of planning permission. The Case Officer responds on 20th January as below.

19 January 2023: CAN contacts MS Dawn Bowden to alert her to the suspected planning infringement within her constituency. The Office of MS Dawn Bowden responds that they will seek an update from the Local Planning Authority regarding the site and current activities.

20 January 2023: MTCBC‘s Principle Planning Officer responds that “It is my understanding that coaling mining has presently ceased on site, pending the outcome of the current planning application”. This understanding was formed based on an update provided by the mining company rather than any kind of inspection or investigation, and did not answer whether coaling has occurred at any point since the end of planning permission.

23 January 2023: MTCBC Planning Councillors and Local Planning Authority staff are invited to a webinar on restoration issues from coal mining in South Wales, featuring Ffos-y-fran in Merthyr Tydfil. Every Council we invited participated in the webinar apart from MTCBC.

27 January 2023: FOE’s Planning Specialist submitted a screening direction request to MTCBC, challenging the Planning Officer’s assessment that a new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not needed for the extension application despite the fact that the last EIA is over 15 years old.

30 January 2023: CAN shares Production and Manpower Statistics from The UK Coal Authority spanning the last 6 months of 2022, indicating coal mining at Ffos-y-fran has continued unabated at the site beyond planning permission.

02 February 2023: MTCBC‘s Principle Planning Officer confirms they were unaware of these statistics and would need to investigate them further - “I can then determine whether the matter should be escalated with our enforcement team and what suitable course of action should be taken, pending the outcome of the current planning application”. The Planning Officer reiterated that based on conversations with the mining company, “activity taking place on site, largely [emphasis added] relate to the slippage that occurred in August 2022”.

06 February 2023: CAN requests an update from the MTCBC‘s Principle Planning Officer’s review of the UK Coal Authority’s statistics indicating ongoing coal mining at Ffos-y-fran. No answer was given.

16 February 2023: MS Dawn Bowden’s office shares with us part of MTCBC Local Planning Authority response to their request for an update “At present we are of the view that the works taking place on site largely relates to the slippage and incorporates some restoration works. Should this situation change it would be necessary for us to consider whether a breach in the planning conditions has taken place and whether it would then be expedient to take enforcement action pending the determination of the current application”. This indicates the Local Planning Authority still has not carried out any investigation, and would only consider enforcement after the determination of the extension application.

03 March 2023: Richard Buxton Solicitors, instructed by CAN, email Welsh Ministers and Enforcement at MTCBC requesting immediate enforcement action is taken at Ffos-y-fran to stop the apparent ongoing breach of planning control.

09 March 2023: A MTCBC solicitor answers that “The Council does not consider that it would be a productive use of its officers’ time to provide a detailed response at present to the matters raised in the letter”. The response also reveals that the extension application is due to be considered on 26 April 2023, only after which any issues related to enforcement will be considered. This effectively affords the coal company a de facto, circa 8 month extension—just one month less than what it applied for, and without any democratic process, procedure, or regulatory oversight.

13 March 2023: Richard Buxton Solicitors write to the Welsh Ministers regarding the serious breach of planning control and the Local Planning Authority’s inadequate action to stop it, despite consequences to national-level climate commitments. A response is requested by 20 March 2023.

21 March 2023: Richard Buxton Solicitors write to the Welsh Ministers following up on the missed response deadline. No reply was offered by Welsh Ministers or any representative of the Welsh Government.

18 April: The Coal Authority fail to provide the first quarter of 2023 national coal mining statistics. Statistics for 2022 were used to prove Ffos-y-fran continued coal mining. The Coal Authority weeks later provide only national-level statistics from which it is not possible to isolate what coal is being mined at Ffos-y-fran. The Coal Authority state it will provide the usual break-down but as of 24 May 2023, has not done so.

26 April 2023: MTCBC Councillors unanimously reject the application to extend the Ffos-y-fran coal mine.

02 May 2023: MTCBC rejects demands that it takes immediate enforcement action via a Temproary Stop Notice in light of the Councillors' rejection of the extension.

04 May 2023: MTCBC case officer admits to witnesses coal trucks continuing to leave the Ffos-y-fran coal mine.

08 May - 12 May 2023: MTCBC receives over 7000 emails demanding it stops nearly 1,000 tonnes of coal leaving the mine every day with a Temporary Stop Notice. MTCBC fails to respond.

10 - 12 May 2023: MS Julie James (Minister for Climate Change) and MS Lee Waters (Deputy Minister for Climate Change) receive over 2,000 emails demand they exercise power 182 of the TCPA to intervene and put a stop to this coal mine, given the MTCBC's continuing failure to for over 8 months.

16 May 2023: After communication with CAN, MS Delyth Jewell questions the Welsh Government on its inaction over Ffos-y-fran. MS Lesley Griffiths responds that there doesn't appear to be evidence of continued coal mining, but instead just of coal leaving the site.

19 May 2023: Drone footage seems to evidence the mining and transport of coal to be filtered inside Ffos-y-fran coal mine.

23 June 2023: Coal Action Network obtains an open letter legal opinion from James Maurici (KC) of Landmark Chambers and Toby Fisher of Matrix Chambers, advising amongst other things, that the Welsh Government or Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council should issue a stop notice to prevent the ongoing illegal coal mining at Ffos-y-fran.

23 August 2023: Together with Good Law Project, we instruct Richard Buxton Solicitors - specialists in planning and environmental law - to initiate judicial review proceedings against the Welsh Government and Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council for failing to stop the ongoing illegal coal mining.

23 October 2023: A group of over 30 Wales-based NGOs and businesses sign on to a letter to Climate Change Minister Julie James MS and Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters MS demanding the Welsh Government ban coal mining on Welsh soil to avoid another Ffosy-y-fran opencast disaster.

Published 25/05/23 Updated 30/10/2023

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Andrew Price
Andrew Price
8 months ago

I passed up through Dowlais earlier today and there’s still machinery moving around in there.

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