Ffos-y-Fran: Merthyr Tydfil opencast mine to close after planning permission controversy

  • ITV Wales' Tom Atkins looks back at the history of Ffos-y-Fran

The UK's biggest opencast mine is due to close today (Thursday, 30 November) more than a year after its planning permission expired.

Ffos-y-Fran in Merthyr Tydfil produces two-thirds of the UK's coal and was due to shut in September 2022 after permission for work to be carried out there was refused.

Despite miner operator Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd's planning permission expiring last year, digging continued while the company challenged orders to cease from both the local authority and the Coal Authority which issues mining licences.

Once it closes the company has an obligation to restore the land around it with the estimated clean-up bill between £120m and £175m.

That's something that concerns residents in the area. Alyson Austin, who lives nearby, has long campaigned for the closure of the mine. She said: “We don’t want them to just leave. We want them to restore the site!

Chris and Alyson Austin, residents and campaigners Credit: Friends of the Earth Cymru

"The company was given permission to mine here on the condition that the site was fully restored afterwards and handed back to the community.

She added: “The sign at the entrance says ‘Ffos y Fran Land Reclamation Scheme.’ The ‘reclamation’ promised meant returning the land to a  better, usable state, not leaving us with a huge, horrible mess.

"It must be restored, otherwise, it will be an ugly, dangerous place, rather than an amenity we can enjoy!”

Despite the planning permission for mining at the site expiring last year, work has continued as the operator challenges orders to cease. Credit: ITV Wales

What is Ffos-y-Fran?

The Ffos-y-Fran opencast coal mine is the biggest of its kind in the UK.

This is where coal is mined from an open pit in the ground. These mines leave behind large craters which disrupt the natural landscape, contaminate the soil and disturb habitats.

It opened back in 2007 with a 15-year licence to extract coal from the site, just outside of Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales.

Haf Elgar, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru said: “It’s disgraceful that coal mining has been allowed to continue unlawfully at Ffos y Fran for so long, against the wishes of the local community, the unanimous vote of councillors, and to the detriment of the planet.

Haf Elgar, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru

She added: “The company must fully restore the site – and Merthyr Council and the Welsh Government have to ensure that this happens, for the sake of the local community and to restore faith in the planning system.”

Responding to the delays, Merthyr Councils say that they are working with the company to "develop a revised restoration plan". Adding, "Current discussions indicate that a Planning application for a revised restoration plan will be submitted to Merthyr Tydfil CBC in early 2024.

"In the meantime, the developer is responsible for the safety of the site."

Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd. have been approached for a comment.

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