Varteg Hill: Warning over opencast mine 'expense'

Glamorgan Power want to extract 350,000 tonnes of coal from Varteg Hill

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Opponents of plans for an opencast mine want the Welsh government to respect its own planning guidance and block it to avoid "enormous public expense".

Torfaen council rejected the Varteg Hill application near Blaenavon in 2011 which is close to houses and a school.

Welsh government guidelines state opencast works should be at least 500m from housing.

But a minister has said he was "minded to approve" the plan to extract up to 2,500 tonnes of coal a week.

Start Quote

This is about ensuring that Welsh government adopted policy delivers on the ground - the protection we promised communities affected by opencast”

End Quote Lynne Neagle Torfaen AM

Glamorgan Power, which submitted the application, appealed to the Welsh government planning inspectors after the scheme was turned down by Torfaen council.

In February John Griffiths - the minister then responsible for planning - said he was "minded to approve" the development.

Carl Sargeant is now considering the final decision on the matter as minister now responsible.

Under the Welsh government's Mineral Technical Advice Note (MTAN), a 500m buffer zone should exist around opencast workings, unless there is "acceptable justification".

'Expense and heartache'

Opponents are insisting the Welsh government respects its own planning guidance, and presented a 680-name petition to the assembly this week.

Campaigner Dr John Cox said: "When local authorities hear [First Minister] Carwyn Jones say in answer to a question that 'guidance is there to be obeyed', they then operate it, and you then expect that any planning inspector will also consider he will have to obey it.

"Otherwise we'll have council after council going to be refusing applications and planning inspector after planning inspector rejecting it at enormous public expense and heartache to the communities involved."

Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle said: "This is about ensuring that Welsh government adopted policy delivers on the ground - the protection we promised communities affected by opencast.

"I hope that the minister will reject the Varteg Hill appeal - he's considering that at the moment.

"If that doesn't happen what we'd like to see is the buffer zone made law so then everybody in Wales is crystal clear about about where they stand.

"We've got a policy document which we all expected the planning inspector to follow but it appear in this case the planning inspector hasn't listened to that guidance.

"We're in a situation where opencasting will take place some 60 metres away from people's homes and a local primary school."

However, not everyone in the area is opposed to the development.

John Morgan, who lives close to the proposed site, said the impact of noise and dust was "not worth mentioning".

He said that he also understood measures would be taken after three years of mining to return the land to its natural state, prior to previous mining activity in the 1950s.

A Welsh government spokesman said it was aware of representations to the assembly's petitions committee and that Mr Sargeant was due to give evidence to the committee in July.

He added: "The decision on the Varteg Hill appeal has yet to issue and the case is still 'live'."

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