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Sunday, February 08, 2015

The cost of Wales' abandoned opencast mines

Today's Wales on Sunday highlight a growing issue in my region, namely the abandonment of open cast mine sites with insufficient funds to restore them.

At Parc Slip in Margan, a 600 by 400 metre water-filled hole has been left behind which in the view of many could lead to flooding. There is also East Pit near Gwaun Cae Gurwen, which has also been left open and unrestored.

We would need £115 million to restore land at East Pit but only around £2.5 million is available in the bond left by its former owners. At Parc Slip the fund stands at £5.5m of an estimated £57m needed.

As the paper says there are currently 34 opencast mines across the UK, 17 in Scotland, nine in South Wales and eight in England, many in the same position. In the case of East Pit the current owners say that the only way to get a restoration scheme underway is to grant permission for further mining. That leaves local communities stuck between the rock and a hard place:

Last year the Welsh Government penned a report examining the problem.

It named 10 mines in Wales of which five "may have insufficient bond cover at some stages of their operating life" to pay for land to be repaired.

These were Ffos-y-Fran, in Merthyr Tydfil; Tower Colliery, at Hirwaun, in Rhondda Cynon Taf; Nant Helen, in Coelbren, Powys; East Pit, in Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, Neath Port Talbot and Parc Slip at Kenfig, in Neath Port Talbot.

These were owned by Celtic Energy, Miller Argent and Tower Regeneration Ltd.

Dynant Fawr, in Tumble, Carmarthenshire, had "effectively been abandoned in an unrestored state." That was run by the dissolved Dynant Fach Colliery Company Ltd.

The Welsh Government warned cash paid by mining firms for land restoration "is not a panacea".

"This is because it has to be accumulated at a rate which keeps pace with the restoration burden posed by the site at any particular stage of its operation," the report said.

It cannot be set at "an unreasonably high rate" that would be "commercially unviable".

The fairest bond level “might well involve an initial lump sum to cover the damage and disruption caused during site establishment works, followed by a sum accrued against tonnage of coal extracted.”

Clearly, a solution has to be found that does not subject local communities to more disruption and years of misery.
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