A NEW watchdog over coal deposits in Wales should be set up, an independent report has concluded.
Tipping safety has become a pressing issue – and a political sore point between the Welsh and UK governments – since heavy rains in early 2020 caused landslides when tips collapsed.
The Law Commission, which announced a consultation on a review of coal dump laws last June, has just released its report recommending a new safety regime.
It says this would protect against a range of coal deposit security threats and ensure that all deposits are handled consistently.
The creation of a new body to oversee the safety of coal landfills would also address a current lack of a general duty to ensure the safety of landfills and that local authorities can only intervene where there are concerns about the safety of coal landfills. instability of the discharge.
Nicholas Paines QC, public law commissioner at the Law Commission for England and Wales, said new legislation was needed to ensure consistency in the handling of tips.
“The laws governing coal landfills in Wales date from an earlier age and no longer provide adequate tools to manage the legacy of coal landfills in Wales. Only a small minority of landfills have the potential to be a hazard, but new legislation is needed to enable all landfills to be effectively monitored, preventive work to be carried out to avoid the hazard and remedial work to be carried out to reduce existing risks.
“We believe that our recommended reforms would significantly improve the management of coal landfills and particularly the top-rated landfills.”
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The current law dates from 1969 and was introduced following the Aberfan tragedy in 1966, but was written at a time when there was an active coal industry and disused landfills were not seen as a problem important.
Almost all the points in Wales are now disused and increased rainfall, due to climate change, means there is an increased risk of point instability, which was highlighted in February 2020 following the storms Ciara and Dennis.
The Coal Authority has estimated the cost of making safe tips for current and forecast climatic conditions at £500-600 million over the next 10 years. The Welsh Labor government has called on the UK government to provide additional funds to deal with the legacy of coal mining, but these calls have been rejected by the Conservative administration in Westminster.
Today’s report aims to address the practical aspects of tip management and to clarify the law and focus on tip management to be proactive rather than reactive.
The Law Commission says its recommendations will provide a proactive and holistic approach to coal landfill safety, including early intervention to prevent landfill problems from occurring, tackling issues beyond landfill instability and protect against the future implications of climate change.
The new body he recommended would be responsible for the safety of all disused coal dumps. It would also compile and maintain a register of all disused coal dumps and organize inspections and the creation of dump management plans.
He would also have increased involvement in the designation and prioritization of security work.
Problems highlighted with the current legislation include inconsistencies between local authority areas, no way to prioritize high-risk councils and ensure they are urgently dealt with. Nor do councils have the power to carry out preventative safety work before a spill becomes a hazard.
The report has been tabled in the Senedd and it will be up to the Welsh Government to decide whether to implement the recommendations.
Climate Change Minister Julie James said: “We are committed to bringing forward legislation to improve the security of coal deposits during Senedd’s current term and this report provides valuable evidence to support his development.
“I look forward to reviewing the recommendations and will provide an update next week.”
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