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LAON's Feb-March 2013 of Welsh Opencast Sites

Steve Leary | 21.03.2013 09:27 | Climate Chaos | Energy Crisis | Social Struggles | London | Wales

This review carries news items on the state of opencast mine proposals in Wales, especially the latest news about the Varteg and East Pit proposal. It also provides some information about who Miller Argent are, the Company mining at Ffos-y-Fran and who mau be submitting a new opencast proposal for the Nant Llesg site in Gwent

IN WALES FROM 1/2/13 – 20 /3/13

2013 SERIES: No 2c

From June 2012 to January 2013 a monthly review was published that grew to cover the whole of the UK, and by January it had reached 35 pages and was becoming unwieldy and imposing a strain on meeting the end of month deadline by which all information on all the sites had to be checked. The decision was taken to split the review into three parts, one covering England to be published on or just after the 1st of the month, the Scottish part to be published on or just after the 10th of the month and the Welsh part to be published on of just after the 20th of each month.

On the date this review was published these were the number of opencast sites under consideration:

In the Public Domain in the English Planning System 13
In the Public Domain in the Scottish Planning System 14
In the Public Domain in the Welsh Planning System 4
Approved sites, but still inactive after 2 years (Scotland)) 3
Mothballed site: Scotland 1
Derelict Sites: England 2
Derelict Site: Scotland 1
Derelict Site: Wales 1

If you know of any other mothballed or derelict sites please contact



The way to read each entry below is as follows:

Site Name, Location, Planning Authority, Position in the Planning System (either Scoping Inquiry, Application Submitted, Application Approved), the name of the Applicant / Operator and the size.


THE BRITISH IN TALYWAIN, (Torfaen) (Pre Scoping Inquiry)(HSBC ) (No public estimate of coal reserves)

Last news 6/10/12

BRYN DEFAID, LLWYDCOED (Rhondda Cynon Taf Council) (Scoping Inquiry) (Celtic Energy) (1.2m tonnes)

Last news 20/12/12, ‘Action group set to fight opencast plan’ (Wales on Line) @

EAST PIT, BRYNAMAN (Neath Port Talbot County Council) (Oak Regeneration (Application) (1.63m tonnes ) (800 hectares of which 80 are currently operational) (Ref no P2012/1073)

More detail about the proposal can be accessed via the Neath Port Talbot County Council web site here:
An outline of the proposed extraction of minerals is contained in Appendix 1 here:

‘Gwenda Thomas AM raises concerns about East Pit resort plan’ (BBC Wales, 11/1/13) @

Welsh Assembly Member Gwenda Thomas has asked that the development proposal for the East Pit be called in and decided by the Welsh Environment Minister. In her request she states:

“...the size of the site meant its impact was "likely to extend well beyond the immediate locality and the boundaries of one county borough".

"Given the site's proximity to the Brecon Beacons National Park, the proposals are likely to have a significant effect on a landscape of natural importance," she said.
"This is particularly so in relation to the proposals for the restoration of the site, which the applicants hope will create a development that will act as a gateway to the national park." “

A spokesperson for the proposer of the scheme which includes plans to extract coal for 3 more years, Paul McTernan of SLR Consulting, which is working on behalf of East Pit owner Oak Regeneration,

“.... said the regeneration scheme would bring great benefits to an area that badly needed investment."We spent a lot of time with people in the village halls. They are anxious and that's understandable," he said.

"But there's an incredible missed opportunity if we don't use the site for new forms of economic activity.

COMMENT: This was not noticed in time for the last review of Welsh opencast site news, hence its inclusion here

NANT HELEN REMAINDER ( Onllyn, Neath-Port Talbot) (Powys Council) (Application) (Celtic Energy), (1.9m tonnes)

No recent news on this site

Surface miner Celtic Energy want to mine on this site for a further 4.5 years, on a site they have been working since 2002.

‘Our Proposals for the Nant Helen Remainder’ (Celtic Energy)

NANT LLESG, GWENT (Gwent) (Scoping Inquiry) (Miller Argent)

Last news, 9/8/12 ‘Nant Llesg opencast mine protesters make a short film’ @

A local group, the Green Valleys Alliance has already been formed to oppose any application.

You can keep up with the campaign via their web site:

MARGAM PARC (PARK) SLIP EXTENSION (again) (Neath Port Talbot) (Oak Developments) (1.5m tonnes) (Currently, this is classified by the Local Authority as a derelict site)

Last news 11/10/12, 'Garden city' plan for Margam opencast mine’ BBC News South Wales, @

My understanding is that informal discussions have taken place between Oak Developments and its Agent and Neath Port Talbot / Bridgend Council or this possible development, but nothing as yet is in the public domain as far as a planning application or a formal scoping inquiry is concerned.

A new residents group has come into being to oppose this development, the No More Opencast at Parc Slip / Margam Group, who have set up a Facebook type page here

However, I’ve no contact with this group as yet..

VARTEG (Torfaen Council), (Public Inquiry), (Glamorgan Power) (325,000 tonnes)

‘Varteg resident backs opencast mine’ (South Wales Argus, 6/2/13) @

A local resident claims that those living close to the site are in favour of the application:

“John Morgan, 76, has lived on Pembroke Terrace for 31 years, in one of the closest houses to the proposed site. He said: “Most of the people living close to the site are for the proposal, and we are not worried about the dust and the noise pollution.”

Mr Morgan claims that there will be no problems for the school, Ysgol Bryn Onnen, which is 120 metres away, over the planned site. He said: “The works won’t impact on the school as there’s already heavy traffic.

Also the wind blows south to north so dust will not be blown on to the site.
“Children are only in school for 40 weeks of the year, so the project will be over and done with before they have realised.”

COMMENT: Taken in isolation this seems a reasonable news item. Taken in the context of what follows, it looks suspicious, a good spoiling story set to support why the Welsh minister may be ‘minded’ to grant permission and undermine any remaining opposition to the development. I was not party to the original planning decision or to the conduct of the Public Inquiry so I cannot say how many letters from local residents there were in favour of the scheme, compared to those who opposed it. Perhaps some ne can tell me.

I also note the logic of Mr Morgan’s comments about the proximity to the school to the site, which seems to suggest that 2+2=2, not 4

‘Varteg opencast plan set for go-ahead’ (South Wales Argus, 8/2/13) @

First indications of the outcome of the Varteg Public Inquiry

‘Campaigners vow to carry on fight over Varteg opencast plans’ (Sth Wales Argus: Gwent, 14/2/13) @

The result of a Public Inquiry into an appeal over a refusal for permission to mine on this site has now been published. The Inspector, Clive Neild has recommended to the Welsh Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, John Griffiths, that the appeal be upheld. The Minister has now written a letter which suggests that he “is minded to approve” the application.

Local civic leaders and the local campaign group are to continue their campaign to prevent the application from being approved. One of their main concerns is that the perimeter of the site as planned will be within 120m of Ysgol Bryn Onnen School. As such, it clearly breaches the Welsh Government’s planning guidance that no such development should normally occur within 500m of human inhabitation.
However, objectors have yet to see the Public Inquiry report, which, as yet, has not been published.

COMMENT: If the appeal is upheld, it will set a new case law precedent for Wales that drives a coach and horses through the existing planning guidance policy. It could be used as a precedent on all future Welsh opencast mine applications. This is why Welsh groups in the Network should use all their contacts to lobby the First Minister for Wales not to uphold the appeal. This is advice from the person leading the local No Campaign. Groups in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland should follow suit. English groups because any weakening of the Welsh policy would undermine the English / Northern Irish case for a 500m Buffer Zone policy to be implemented. For Scotland, if the appeal is upheld, it would give further encouragement to the Scottish Government not to support their own planning policy guidance of having such a zone, something which they have been prone to do of late.

In addition, the full report of the Public Inquiry should be published prior to the final decision.

A National Petition “Make the MTAN Law” has been started by the local campaign group. You can sign the petition up to the 16/4/13 by following this link:

If you want to write a letter to the Welsh Minister who will make the final decision, write to the Welsh Housing and Regeneration Minister, Carl Sargeant @

‘Parents anxious over Varteg opencast mine plans’ (ITV Wales, 8/3/13) @

Brief video where a local parent expresses her health concerns for herself and her children.

‘Opencast plans could blight Blaenavon World Heritage site’ (Abergavenny Chronicle), 14/3/13) @

In a letter to the Welsh Government, two local Torfaen Councillors Alan Jones and Alun Furzer have stated, among other comments that :

“We echo the calls by our Assembly Member for the publication of the report by the planning inspector.
“As Blaenavon is a UNESCO World Heritage dedicated site has the Welsh Government taken into account the effect on tourism on the town?
“There will, as we understand, be significant noise and dust caused by regular transportation of coal by lorry..."

COMMENT: A further sign that opposition to the Minister being ‘minded’ to approve the appeal is still mounting.


‘Minister launches new planning policy to ensure sustainable growth for Wales’ economy’ (Welsh Government, 7/11/12) @
In announcing this new policy the (Welsh) Minister said

“This new policy is about balance. It recognises that jobs and growth are essential to Wales’ economy, but also recognises that we must never lose sight of the other factors that are vital to people’s long term quality of life.

“The policy calls on local planning authorities to establish a robust evidence base of the economic characteristics of their particular areas and to use this evidence when making decisions and when developing their local development plans. This should help ensure decision making is based on a realistic assessment of demand.

COMMENT: It is a bit late reporting on this, but better late than never. This statement has echoes in it on the stress put on the economy in the new English National Planning Policy Framework , where we now know, after the Halton Lea Gate Surface Mine decision, that ‘national need’ arguments over-ride any local environmental or amenity concerns. Understanding this shift in policy for Wales may also help to explain why the Inspector felt he was able to uphold the Varteg appeal.

NEWS EXTRA: FFOS-Y-FRAN LAND RECLAMATION / OPENCAST MINE SITE (Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council) (Approved) (Miller Argent) (10m)

This controversial site finally gained planning permission in 2007 to be worked for an additional 15 years. Resistance to this proposal was led by a local campaign group who reformed themselves as the Residents Against Ffos-y-Fran (RAFF) (see below). Below are two recent items of news that show that coal from this site is being used for purposes other than electrical power generation and some is being exported.

‘Ffos-y-fran Premium Welsh Dry Steam Coal’ (Old Glory, 4/4/12) @

‘Ffos-y-fran dry steam coal trialled in Switzerland’ (Moving Mountains, Winter 2013) @

These two articles show how coal from this site is being marketed to a niche market other than for power generation purposes. Some of the coal is being exported and expectations are that this will be a growing market.

COMMENT: These two articles show that coal from the Ffos-y-Fran site is having uses other than keeping Welsh lights on. This ‘Need for Coal’ argument for power generation purposes is usually the main justification for granting planning permission and I’m sure that the Ffos-y-fran application was no different. Now there is this evidence that some of the coal from this site is being diverted for other ‘heritage’ purposes and even being exported. I’m sure that such developments will please those local residents who live close to the boundary of what is probably, currently, the most notorious UK opencast site that the site they live next to is contributing to reducing the UK’s trade deficit.

For more information about the Residents Against Ffos-y-Fran follow this link @


MILLER ARGENT is a Company jointly owned by Miller Group and ArgentLLP as indicated by this web page on the Miller Group web site

Miller Group: Joint Ventures @


Who are ArgentLLP? Originally it was, according to its Wickopedia entry, the British Telecom Pension Fund which became a plc.@

It recently restructured itself as a Limited Liability Partnership . See

‘Argent undergoes restructuring’ (Manchester Evening News, 29/5/12) @

‘Argent partnership opens door for new investors’ (Place North West, 20/3/13) @

Judging by both of these later news stories, Argent seem to be trying to distance itself from anything as controversial as opencast mining at Ffos-y-Fran. This observation seems to carry more weight if you look at their web site ArgentLLP


Here you can see a list of prestigious developments they are associated with;
King’s Cross, London
Brindleyplace, Birmingham
Paradise Circus, Birmingham
Piccadilly Place, Manchester
The Hive, Manchester
One St Peter’s Square, Manchester
but no mention of anything as messy and dirty as opencast coal mining.

MILLER GROUP. Originally a private family owned Scottish Company, but in 2011, after racking up losses, stakes in the Company were sold off in exchange for an additional £160m of investment. The Miller family are no longer the majority shareholders (see below)

Miller News

‘Investors take 55% of Miller in £160m deal signed off"

Company overview of the Miller Group

‘Miller counts on steady growth as UK housing market recovers’ @


‘Turnaround as Miller reveals £6.6m profit’ (Herald Scotland, 14/3/13) @


‘Building firm Miller Group returns to profit’ (BBC news, Scotland Business, 14/3/13) @

Miller Group, an Edinburgh based company and half of the Miller Argent company exploiting the Ffos-y-Fran opencast site posted its 2012 results, which were reported on in the Scottish Herald. The report included this statement on its Welsh coal operations:

“Miller Group's Welsh coal operation at Merthyr Tydfil benefited from a favourable forward hedging policy which resulted in it growing profit before interest from £7.5m to £9.2m on the back of an increase in turnover from £31.8m to £34.2m.” (from 1st news item)

“Finally, Miller's joint mining venture has now extracted 33% of coal from Ffos-y-fran in South Wales. It has 7.3 million tonnes of coal reserves still to extract.” (from the 2nd news item)

You can find out more about the Miller Group here:

For more information on LAON contact

Unless otherwise stated, this has been researched and complied by Steve Leary
© Steve Leary

Steve Leary
- e-mail:


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