Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change
Earlier this year I announced a consultation on the Coal Tip Safety (Wales) White Paper which set out our proposals for a new tip safety regime in Wales. The aim of our proposals is to protect communities, critical infrastructure and the environment by introducing new rules on the appropriate management of tips to help reduce the likelihood of landslides.
The White Paper built on the recommendations made by the Law Commission in their report Regulating Coal Tip Safety in Wales which was published on 24 March. The White Paper also included further analysis undertaken by the Welsh Government on areas not addressed in the Law Commission’s report or where it had recommended were for the Welsh Government to consider. The White Paper set out legislative proposals for the introduction of a new statutory management framework, which would provide a new consistent approach to the management, monitoring and oversight of disused tip and help mitigate the potential impacts from climate change.
The consultation closed on 4 August and I am pleased to publish a summary of responses today. I would like to extend my thanks for the valuable contributions provided by a wide range of individual stakeholders, companies, and organisations who responded to this consultation, and for the continued support and advice from our Task Force partners – the Coal Authority, Natural Resources Wales, local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association.
I was pleased to see the significant support for the proposals set out in the White Paper with broad recognition of the need for an effective management regime to help ensure the safety of tips and address the risks they pose to communities and the environment.
Turning to the specific White Paper proposals, there was general agreement for an overarching framework suitable for both disused coal and non-coal tips, although the initial focus for the new regime will be on disused coal tips. This will allow incorporation of other disused spoil tips into the regime when appropriate through a phased transitional approach.
There was strong support for the proposal to establish a supervisory authority to oversee the new regime, ensure management arrangements are in place for the highest category tips and to compile and maintain a new national asset register. Respondents supported the proposal for the supervisory authority to be established as an arms-length Executive Welsh Government Sponsored Body. This will ensure the appropriate independence and focus on securing the safety of tips.
A new management framework must, of course, be premised on up-to-date data. There was broad support for the proposal to introduce a centralised national asset register comprised of uniform, and coherent and reliable data. I take on board the feedback from respondents to not underestimate the complexities and challenges associated with this work. This central register will build upon the data collection work already undertaken by the Coal Tip Safety Task Force. We will continue to engage with stakeholders to learn from others experience and look to utilise best practice where appropriate from existing comparable systems.
The White Paper set out proposals for a new national approach to the categorisation of tips which will be underpinned by a tailored hazard assessment for each site. The hazard assessment would account for the hazards a tip might pose to communities, property, infrastructure or the environment. There was broad support for these proposals, although I acknowledge the comments received on the recruitment shortages for suitable qualified or experienced assessors, and also the need to ensure appropriate training and guidance. We will continue to work with partners and key stakeholders on how we address these capability gaps. I am grateful to our Task Force partners for the ongoing close collaboration and engagement as we continue to trial hazard assessments and categorisations, and refine proposals for inspections, appraisals, management plans and maintenance agreements.
A key theme to emerge consistently in responses to the White Paper is the significant funding and resource requirements to establish and implement the new regime. There are also separate concerns around ensuring a disproportionate burden is not placed on tip owners. I acknowledge these points and commit to ensure transparency around costings as the legislation is developed. It is also worth reiterating there are many economic, social and environmental opportunities that might be gained from investing in disused tips, many of which are located in some of the most deprived areas of Wales.
Finally, there was broad support for the proposals for a two-tier monitoring approach with a proportionate approach to tip management based on the category of each tip. Respondents also recognised the need for appropriate powers of access to private land to enable inspections, maintenance works and spot checks to be undertaken. It was also accepted that civil sanctions would need to be an essential part of the regime with many views provided on how these could be developed. It was recognised the regime will only work effectively if there are appropriate measures in place to ensure compliance.
The responses to the consultation represent a valuable source of evidence and ideas which will help inform the development of our legislative proposals. Over the coming months, my officials will continue to engage with stakeholders as proposals for new legislation are fully developed.
In relation to the wider coal tip safety programme, the fifth round of inspections of the higher rated tips commenced in October and will run throughout the winter months. Despite the challenges in relation to evidence gathering, the coal tip data collation and analysis exercise is progressing and I remain committed to publishing the locations of disused coal tips in Wales. I will continue to keep Members updated.
 Law Com 406, 24 March 2022, Regulating-Coal-Tip-Safety-in-Wales-Report.pdf