Carl Sargenat AM, Minister for Natural Resources
Opencast coal has attracted significant media and political coverage in recent months and I am deeply concerned about the lasting impacts of the failure to restore on communities living in close proximity to opencast sites. I announced my intention to convene a summit of all key stakeholders in the opencast coal sector during the Individual Members’ Debate in the Assembly on 22 April.
The focus of the summit on 9 July 2015 was to discuss and consider with all stakeholders, actions to overcome the challenges of ensuring full and sustainable restoration of sites when opencast coal operations come to an end. I promised to reflect on the contributions made and set out my intentions for moving forward in a written statement.
The attendees included representatives from planning authorities in the South Wales coalfield, Scottish Government, technical and legal experts, site operators and workers, and individuals from community groups that are active in the area. AMs and their representatives were also in attendance.
The intention for the day was clear; it was about distilling all of the contributions made by participants into a number of key working principles which would provide a basis for moving forward and finding appropriate solutions.
The participants at the summit heard about how the global market and other fiscal drivers are presenting challenges for the industry; that particular communities are suffering both as a result of specific opencast sites but also due to the absence of restoration and remediation more generally; and, how local planning authority minerals services are hard pressed to safeguard staff resources and expertise. There were also a number of creative ideas on the table to explore further.
It was clear from the summit that the picture is a complex one – there is a mixture of strategic and locally driven challenges to be faced and these will influence what solutions can be achieved.
Moving forward, there is a clear consensus that further work is necessary in the following areas:
- Improving the resilience of the minerals planning service in Wales by pooling skills and expertise;
- Engaging local authorities, industry and communities in the joint Welsh Government/ Coal Authority work to prepare best practice guidance on the calculation, accumulation and management of bonds which would seek to establish a consistent basis for negotiations across Wales;
- a focused review of MTAN2, the scope of which would include consideration of the exceptions to the buffer zone policy;
- starting a dialogue with UK Government, particularly their stake on legacy sites (especially the portfolio sites on which there was immunity from bonding) and to feed back to a follow up event at a later date.
On this last point, I met with Andrea Leadsom, DECC Energy Minister yesterday. It was a full and frank discussion where I stressed the clear view from the summit that in large part the restoration problems that communities in Wales now face can be directly traced back to the flawed privatisation process which took place in the 1990’s. Andrea Leadsom agreed to put in place a process for constructive dialogue.