Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for Energy, Environment and Rural Affairs
During February 2020, Wales suffered unprecedented effects from Storms Ciara and Dennis which included the slippage of a coal tip in Tylorstown. We are now approaching the first anniversary of this incident, and I would like to update Senedd members on the work of the Coal Tip Safety Taskforce.
At a summit following the land slip at Tylorstown, the First Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales agreed the safety of coal tips was a priority for both the Welsh and UK Governments. A joint taskforce was established to assess the immediate status of coal tips in Wales and review the existing policy and legislative framework relating to disused coal tip management. The Welsh Government leads on the coordination, delivery of and governance arrangements for the work programme.
The Coal Authority was commissioned to undertake urgent ground inspections of coal tips in Wales, identifying any urgent works and the risk status of each tip.
The first round of tip inspections was completed in July 2020. The second round of inspections of high-risk tips is due to finish this month. The Coal Authority has supported Local Authorities by undertaking some of the inspections on these high-risk tips. The inspections have identified the maintenance requirements and the timescales within which they need to be completed. In a small number of cases, the inspections have highlighted works, which are immediately required to ensure the tip is being maintained at a standard necessary to enable routine monitoring. In these cases, we have urged Local Authorities to carry out the necessary works without delay.
In partnership with the Coal Authority, Local Authorities, WLGA and Natural Resources Wales, the taskforce has made significant progress in gaining a detailed picture of the coal tip landscape across Wales, with 2144 coal tips identified, predominately in the South Wales Valleys. The majority of coal tips are in private ownership, with others under the management of Local Authorities, Natural Resources Wales and the Coal Authority.
Local Authorities have been tasked with ensuring any necessary works identified from the inspections are undertaken, working with the Coal Authority and any private owners, to safeguard the structural integrity of the tips within their areas.
A number of Local Authorities have commenced works, including at Tylorstown, where the Rhondda Fach River is being cleared to enable the main works programme to commence this summer.
The complexity and timeliness of this type of work should not be underestimated. There are a number of factors to be considered in relation to any remediation work, not least environmental.
A review of the current legislation undertaken by the taskforce concluded it is neither sufficiently robust nor fit for purpose, in relation to inspection and maintenance regimes. The current legislation does not mandate regular inspections of disused tips or once a tip becomes disused. The Law Commission were formally invited in November to undertake an independent review of the relevant legislation and provide recommendations for a future Bill. The review will run for 15 months and the Law Commission consultation should commence in spring this year.
The taskforce is developing policies in parallel to the work of the Law Commission. The longer term policy objective is to develop a consistent approach for use across Wales for risk assessments and risk categories. Management controls, including a central database, for all tips will also be developed.
A robust inspection and maintenance regime will ensure safeguarding our communities remains a priority, with people living near coal tips feeling safe and secure. The taskforce has also been working with All Wales Risk Group to raise awareness with Local Resilience Forums about coal tip safety links to Community Risk Registers and Emergency Plans.
To support the future monitoring regime to continually assess the stability of coal tips, we are providing funding to support the trial of sensor equipment, which can be placed on coal tips and monitor any movement, enabling different methods of action to be assessed to ensure the most appropriate approach is applied across high-risk tips.
Coal tips are a legacy of Wales’ industrial history, which pre-dates devolution. However, the risks and liabilities associated with this legacy are not reflected in the current fiscal framework. The funding required for urgent remediation and maintenance works has been negotiated with UK Government for 2020/21 as part of the funding package to support recovery following the storms last year. The £9 million received will be used to support the Tylorstown recovery work and immediate emergency maintenance required at other high-risk tips. The long-term remediation programme is likely to run for up to 10 years and will require a comprehensive funding package.
We could still see further heavy rainfall in Wales this winter. This can increase flood risk as well as posing a risk to tip safety in some circumstances. The taskforce’s top priority is to help ensure the necessary checks and planning are undertaken to safeguard our communities but I would ask members of the public to report any concerns about coal tips or get safety advice from the Coal Authority’s 24/7 helpline on 0800 021 9230 or via firstname.lastname@example.org