Plans to replace 'outdated' coal tip safety laws following Aberfan disaster

In October 1966, 116 children and 28 adults were killed when a mountain of coal waste collapsed on the village's school in the South Wales valleys.

Plans to replace "outdated laws" regulating the safety of coal tips have been launched - following the Aberfan disaster.

In October 1966, 116 children and 28 adults were killed when a mountain of coal waste collapsed on the village's school in the South Wales valleys.

Now, the changes made following the disaster to the way coal tips were managed have been described as "no longer fit for purpose".

A new system to monitor tips has been put forward for consultation.

The changes proposed by the new regime include the creation of a body that would be responsible for the safety of all disused coal tips.

The body would be responsible for:

  • Compiling and maintaining a register of all disused tips in Wales

  • Arranging for inspections of tips and the creation of tip management plans

Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner at the Law Commission of England and Wales, said: “The laws governing coal tips in Wales date from an earlier age and no longer offer adequate tools to manage Wales’s legacy of coal tips.

"Only a small minority of tips have the potential to be a danger but new legislation is needed to enable all tips to be effectively monitored.

Julie James, the Welsh Government’s new Minister for Climate Change said the legislation needs to be improved to reflect the implications of our changing climate.

"To protect the wellbeing of communities who live in the presence of coal tips, the legislation needs to be improved to reflect advances in scientific knowledge, the changes in our economy and society, and the implications of our changing climate." she said.

A view of Pantglas Junior School following the coal tip slide on October 21, 1966

A coal tip is a pile built of waste material removed from the ground during coal mining.

Across Wales, there are currently a small number of tips associated with operational coal mines, but there are more than 2,000 disused coal tips.

Without careful management, these tips can present a number of risks.

These include risks of:

  • Coal tip slides: slides can be caused by heavy rainfall and/or poor drainage. Increased rainfall caused by climate change has increased the risk of tip slides taking place.

  • Flooding: tips can cause or contribute to flooding.

  • Pollution: drainage from tips can release pollutants into the environment which can cause a range of damage to local habitats and wildlife.

  • Spontaneous combustion: coal tips can spontaneously combust and remain alight for many years. This can cause subsidence and form hidden cavities prone to collapse, and treating burning tips is hazardous.

What issues are there with the old law?

The Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969 was enacted following an investigation into the Aberfan disaster of 1966.

At that time there was an active coal industry and disused tips were not thought to be a significant problem.

Almost all tips in Wales are now disused, and increased rainfall as a result of climate change brings an "increased risk of tip instability".

In 2020, landslips occurred following Storms Ciara and Dennis.

According to Law Commission of England and Wales the 1969 legislation is "outdated and no longer fit for purpose."

What's next?

The Law Commission will be consulting on these proposals until 10 September 2021.

Following the consultation period, the responses will be analysed and develop final recommendations for the Welsh Government.

A final report aims to be ready in early 2022.