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Welsh Government says that it does not have power to decide on coalmining license

The Welsh Government has said that it does not have the power to veto the award of a Welsh coal mine operator’s license by the UK Coal Authority.

Energybuild Mining Limited has operated the coal mine, Aberpergwm Colliery in Neath Port Talbot, since 2004 and was given planning permission from by Neath Port Talbot to expand the mine in 2018.

After the operator received planning permission to expand the mine, it applied for a full operational licence for the expanded area from the Coal Authority in September 2020.

As part of this determination process, the Coal Authority said it engaged with the Welsh Government for any direction they would wish to give under the Wales Act 2017. But on 10 January 2022, the Welsh Government informed the Coal Authority that Welsh ministers would not be making a determination in the case.

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The Coal Authority said it has a legal duty to approve the licence application, which was given on 25 January 2022. The operator had demonstrated that they met the requisite tests under current legislation, which includes planning permission from the relevant Welsh authorities, according to the Coal Authority.

The approved licence has now gone to the operator for final checks and confirmation. If appropriate confirmation is received within two months, the licence will be granted and issued, the final step in allowing expansion of the existing mine.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said the Welsh Government does “not have the powers to make a decision in this case”.

“This license pre-dates our powers on coal licensing. Acting outside of our powers would have resulted in a Judicial Review.

“The fundamental issue is having a Coal Authority whose duty is to maintain a coal mining industry in the UK. We have been calling for the UK Government to change this duty in the Coal Industry Act to reflect the climate emergency.”

The operator estimates that approximately 42 million tonnes of saleable coal will be extracted from the site over a period in excess of 25 years. The mine is a source of anthracite coal which is known to have the least purities and highest carbon content of any type of coal.

In planning documents from 2018, it was anticipated that 115 jobs would be created in the first year of operations, increasing to 200 jobs by Year 5 and beyond. The planning application states that the coal could be used in steel production at Port Talbot, as a filtration medium, or in cement and brick making.

Policy for coal mining in Great Britain is set by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments through planning policy and legislation and the UK Government through coal licensing policy and legislation.

To operate a coal mine, an operator needs relevant rights and permissions, including planning permission, a licence from the Coal Authority, and to notify the Health and Safety Executive.

Adam Carey

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