Campaigners vow to carry on fight over Varteg opencast plans
CAMPAIGNERS have vowed to fight the controversial plan to opencast mine near Pontypool, following the planning inspector’s report giving it the go-ahead. HAYLEY MILLS reports.
A LETTER has been sent out on behalf of the minister for environment and sustainable development, John Griffiths, stating he is “minded to approve” the planning appeal.
Welsh Government-appointed inspector Clive Nield recommended to the minister that the appeal from Glamorgan Power, against Torfaen council’s rejection of plans to extract 256,000 tonnes of coal from Varteg, be allowed and that planning permission be granted subject to conditions.
A final decision is yet to be made and Welsh ministers will make the decision.
Glamorgan Power director Bernard Llewellyn said: “The decision has been a long time in the making and is subject to clarification in respect of the section 106 unilateral undertaking submitted to the inquiry.
“There are also still a number of issues yet to agree before a consent is finally given.”
Members of the No Campaign nowsee it as their last chance to show Mr Griffiths that local opinion is still against the plans, and will host a public meeting.
John Cox said: “In regard to the minister going against the recommendation, it can be done and everyone must remember that the final decision is yet to be made.”
Fellow No Campaign member Alan Styles, who is concerned with the breach of Assembly guidelines that a 500m buffer zone should exist between an opencast mine and any settlement, added: “It’s disappointing news. Rules regarding the buffer zone are put in place for health and safety reasons, so what is the point of making such rules if they do not apply them?”
Mr Cox said: “We shall be pressing the Welsh Government to change the buffer zone guidance into law, so no inspector can override the Welsh Assembly guidance.”
Hundreds of local residents opposed the proposals, including teachers and parents from Ysgol Bryn Onnen, just 120 metres away from the planned site.
Head teacher Ryan Parry said: “Completely ridiculous decision, in my opinion.
Why support an industry that died out years ago, as opposed to supporting more IT-based ventures? After all, the children will have more IT-based jobs to look forward to in the futureas opposed to miningones.”
Torfaen’s AM, Lynne Neagle, said she is “deeply dismayed”.
In January 2011 the council rejected the planning application from Glamorgan Power to extract the coal because of concerns over dust and noise pollution.
The firm appealed against the decision, sparking the public inquiry, which was held at the end of January and early February 2012.
The mayor of Torfaen, Cllr Wayne Tomlinson, said: “This is disappointing news.
I believe this is the first application to be tested on the adopted Tan (technical advisory note) that is supposed to protect communities living so near to the environmental impact of such works.
“My concern is that this decision will open a floodgate for much larger opencast applications. It should be the authority, not the Welsh Assembly who should make the decision.”
The mayor of Blaenavon, Cllr Gareth Davies, said: “I’m very disappointed at an appalling decision which threatens a school and will create heavy traffic in Blaenavon. Blaenavon town council remains steadfast in opposing the development.”
Let’s see that report, say baffled politicians
A JOINT statement from Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle and MP Paul Murphy said: “Weare surprised and disappointed to hear the news that the minister is minded to allow the application for opencasting at Varteg.
“We have both been heavily involved in voicing the overwhelming concerns from residents about the impact of this on the nearby houses and school.
“The guidelines state that opencasting should only be allowed within 500 metres of houses if there are ‘exceptional circumstances’, such as an overriding benefit to the local community.
“It is unclear to us what the exceptional circumstances are in this situation, so we call on the minister to think again and reaffirm the council’s decision to oppose this application. Our immediate priority is to see the inspector’s report, so that we can find out the reasons behind this baffling reversal.”
Ms Neagle added: “It was really useful to be able to meet local residents and parents from Ysgol Bryn Onnen – there’s a huge strength of feeling among them.
“I’ve agreed to attend a meeting in Varteg which is being organised by residents opposed to the plans.”
Residents split in their views
THE news has provoked mixed opinion among residents who live nearest to the Varteg site, in Pembroke Terrace and Salisbury Terrace.
Gail Beswick, who has lived in her house overlooking the site for 30 years, said: “I welcome getting rid of the coal tip as afterwards it will be a useable space.”
Debbie Lee agreed: “I welcome it being landscaped and the dust isn’t a worry as there is always dust blowing off there as it is, so it would be better to get rid of it.”
John Morgan, 76, pictured, who has lived in Pembroke Terrace for 31 years, is for the plans. He said: “Most of the people complaining do not know the mess I look at when I leave my house and Glamorgan Power have offered to sort it.”
However, Tom Murray disagrees, and said: “I have concerns about dust, how that would impact on mine and my son’s health as we both have asthma. The roads leading from the site are very narrow and lorries will have trouble passing.”
Clive Stevens, from Salisbury Terrace, said: “I don’t want the works because of the dust and noise. On a windy day you can’t stop the dust blowing around. I don’t mind looking at the unkempt views as it’s a reminder of our heritage.”