Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change
I am writing to provide members with an update on the work being undertaken on coal tip safety in Wales.
Since the last update provided in February 2021, we have continued to work with the Coal Authority, local authorities and Natural Resources Wales to identify all disused coal tips across Wales. The collation and analysis of this data has been a lengthy and complex process, with 2456 tips identified, of which 327 are classified as higher risk. Work remains ongoing with the collation and storage of this data however, information relating to these tips will be shared with local authorities and Local Resilience Forums to assist their emergency preparedness.
It is important for members of the public to know the safeguarding of our communities remains a priority and we are taking action to mitigate as many risks as possible. The next round of winter inspections on the higher risk tips commenced last week and will continue through the winter months, identifying any maintenance and urgent works as part of the process. An interim risk categorisation is in place to ensure consistency with the approach to categorisation across Wales. The interim risk categorisation recognises there is the potential to cause risk to safety, rather than there being an imminent or immediate threat, with more frequent inspections scheduled on the higher-risk rated tips. We are funding the Coal Authority to carry out the inspections jointly with local authorities, providing a consistent approach to the current inspection regime.
There are many tips in private ownership, some of which will require inspecting as part of the winter programme. Local authorities have been tasked with leading on the delivery of any necessary works identified from the inspections, working with the Coal Authority and any private owners to safeguard the structural integrity of the tips within their areas.
We are committed to researching and trialling technology, to ensure appropriate technical solutions can support the longer term monitoring of coal tips. Earlier this year, Welsh Government provided funding to support local authorities with purchasing drones to use as part of their inspection and management regime.
As part of our programme of technology trials, sensor equipment and earth observation techniques have been employed at over 70 higher-risk coal tip sites across Wales. Further techniques are being considered for implementation on selected sites before the upcoming winter, looking at additional remote sensing and real-time telemetric monitoring systems.
Trials will be ongoing throughout the winter season and extend through 2022. The first programme review is scheduled for spring 2022, following which initial conclusions will be made on the suitability, effectiveness and value specific to coal tip features.
The use of technology to monitor coal tips will complement the new management regime we have committed to introduce in primary legislation during this Senedd term.
The development of this legislation will be substantially supported by the independent review of the exiting legislative framework we commissioned by the Law Commission. The Commission’s consultation ‘Regulating Coal Tip Safety in Wales’, which recently closed confirmed there are major gaps in the current regime, which was focused on an active industry and does not provide an effective management framework for disused coal tips in the twenty-first century. I look forward to receiving the Law Commission’s final report and recommendations early next year.
Legislation is, however, only one element of our long-term approach to addressing coal tip safety. To ensure the legacy of coal mining does not continue to pose a risk to public safety, a long-term reclamation and remediation programme, over a 10 to 15 year period, is required. While this programme can help to reduce future risks of landslides it also offers an opportunity to transform coal tips into something more productive and beneficial for communities in Wales.
Investment in coal tips can bring economic benefits, new skills and more employment to our hard pressed Welsh communities. It will improve the environment for people who live there and give back a share of national wealth to those whose predecessors helped create it.
Following the recent Senedd debate on the UK Government Spending Review to address coal tip safety in Wales, we will continue to press UK Government to provide the required funding for the reclamation programme.
As we move into the autumn and winter months, rainfall will increase posing additional risks to flooding and landslides. I would remind members of the public to report any concerns regarding coal tips or receive safety advice from the Coal Authority’s helpline on 0800 021 9230 or via firstname.lastname@example.org