Ffos-y-Fran: Protesters block entrance to ‘illegal’ coal mine near Merthyr Tydfil

A climate change campaign group has staged a protest at the UK's largest opencast coal mine in an effort to halt operations, despite its licence expiring nine months ago.

Extinction Rebellion held the demonstration at the Ffos-y-Fran opencast site near Merthyr Tydfil on Friday morning.

It comes as the council ordered the mine's closure by the end of July.

Protesters say the mine's owners are still extracting coal nine months after the licence ran out.

Around half a dozen of the activists formed a blockade at the site by ‘locking on’ to make themselves irremovable.

Extinction Rebellion activists disrupted the Ffos-y-Fran colliery near Merthyr Tydfil by blocking the access between the mine and its depot.

Over a dozen other protestors were present, occupying the site and supporting the blockade from the side-lines.

Protesters lit flares and held signs saying: "Coal is our heritage not our future" and "No jobs on a dead planet".

Ffos-y-Fran is the largest open cast coal mine in the UK. It opened in 2007, with a 15-year licence which expired in September 2022.

Despite the lack of permission to continue mining, protestors say trucks can still be seen removing new coal from the site on a daily basis.

They say this is grounds for taking disruptive direct action at the mine.

This protest follows Merthyr Tydfil Council’s rejection on 26 April of an application to extend the mine’s permission to operate, made by mine owners Merthyr.

The council's decision to close the mine was welcomed by First Minister Mark Drakeford.

Resident Marcus Bailie said the site has been "a nightmare for years".

One of the people taking action at the site was Marcus Bailie, 68, a Caerphilly resident.

"I live just about four miles over that hill and this site has been a nightmare for years, but in particular since September when Merthyr South Wales Ltd. (the coal mine's owners) their permission to mine here ran out." He said.

"They completely ignored that and carried on. Merthyr council unanimously rejected their applications to extend, and they completely ignored that carried on mining coal.

"From the time of that hearing, they've got five months to put in an appeal. I'm doubtless if that will go against them, I'm doubtless they will still carry on, so we're not going to give them that third chance.

"Since nobody else will shut it down, we'll shut it down."

Philip Hughes claims the coal mine has been used illegally since September.

Philip Hughes, an Extinction Rebellion activist, said: "This coal mine should have closed on the 6 September last year - it's been open since then, and in that period, they have removed 300,000 tonnes of coal illegally because they've got no licence to be here because they haven't got planning permission.

"That 300,000 tonnes of coal equates to a million tonnes of CO2 and this is a massive problem."

When asked about local jobs that could be lost as a result of the mine closing, Philip said he believes the community needs to see more "green jobs".

"We've known for 20 years that this coal mine is going to come to an end and the employer should have been preparing for this, putting in training and what we really need now are green jobs." He said.

"We don't want a filthy coal mine like this."

Merthyr Tydfil Council released a statement on Thursday saying an enforcement notice was issued to Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd requiring the end of the extraction of coal from the land.

It also tells them to stop carrying out development at the land under the planning permission granted on 6 May 2011, other than that which completely complies with the approved restoration and management strategy.

Protesters held signs saying, "coal is our heritage not our future" and "no jobs on a dead planet".

The notice will take effect on 27 June as a statutory period of at least 28 days is required unless an appeal is made to the planning inspector before this date.

Once the notice has taken effect the developer has 28 days to comply and failure to do so within this time may lead to a further escalation of enforcement action.

The council said it was in early discussions with the developer to consider a revised restoration strategy.

In April, the council’s planning committee voted to refuse an application to extend the time of operations until March 2024.

The company behind the mine said the coal was needed for the steel industry but council planning officials said that it failed to demonstrate this.

They also highlighted the need to decarbonise citing climate change and emission reductions.

Councillors at the meeting heard that “insufficient funds” had been set aside to complete the restoration of the land.

Around £15m was in an Escrow account for this but an officer estimated the funds needed for the current restoration plan were between £75m and £125m.

The protest took place outside Ffos-y-Fran opencast site this morning.

In April, seven Extinction Rebellion Cymru activists were given fines of several thousand pounds as part of their sentence for aggravated trespass after disrupting the Aberpergwm colliery in July last year.

The tactic used to blockade the Ffos-y-Fran mine, called ‘locking on’, was recently criminalised in England and Wales by the Public Order Act 2023 and is now punishable by up to 51 weeks in prison.

The mine's owners, Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd, declined to comment.