August 9, 2018 - In England, plans to reopen an underground drift coal mine in the Neath Valley are going back before councilors after an environmental campaign group highlighted the application had not included any up-to-date ecological surveys on protected species.
Planning permission was granted in March by Neath Port Talbot Council to reopen the Aberpergwm Colliery, near Glynneath.
Coal production at the mine stopped in 2015 with around 300 people losing their jobs in the three years before.
But new investors in the company Energybuild came forward with the aim of restarting coal production at the site and creating up to 200 jobs.
Experts believe there are “potentially tens of millions of tonnes of underground reserves”.
The application had previously been approved in 2015 but final legal agreements were not signed off due to a change in ownership of the site and changes in the coal market.
After councillors voted unanimously to approve the plans in March, Friends of the Earth asked the Welsh Government to call in the application but the government turned down their request.
The Welsh Ministers will only call in an application if the proposed development appears to raise planning issues of more than local importance.
Friends of the Earth pointed out the use of “very old” ecology surveys which were “improperly relied” upon to grant planning consent.
The organization noted that “not one of the 226 documents on the council’s website pertaining to the application postdates 2015”, adding “the failure to update surveys regarding protected species is a significant material consideration that has been overlooked”.
An officer’s report from 2014/15 citing surveys indicated that the site was in use by badgers, otters, brown hares, honey buzzards, goshawks, peregrines and nightjars, as well as pipistrelle, whiskered, daubenton and noctule bat species.
Friends of the Earth said that as the site has been dormant for two years, the “two breeding seasons alone are sufficient for a species’ population to radically change”.
In response to the call-in request Energybuild has since commissioned Pryce Consultant Ecologists to update the ecological surveys.
The updated survey found that the ecological attributes of the site have “essentially not changed”.
They say the use of the site by badgers is “likely to be very limited” and that “only seasonal hunting opportunities” for otters would occur away from the Neath River and Neath Canal.
They add that the brown hare occurs in “a very low density” in open areas and there were no bat roosts within the application area.
The ecologist’s report states there were no suitable breeding habits within the application site for the fully protected bird species known to breed within the general area and the site provided “poor habitats” for reptiles and amphibians.
It concludes that the original assessments provided in the 2014 report remain unchanged.
The additional ecological impact documents will go before the Neath Port Talbot Council planning committee meeting in August.
Energybuild's managing director Rhidian Davies said: "The council asked for additional information which we were putting in place.
"We have given that to them."