The assembly has issued the planning guidance in an attempt to balance environmental and health concerns against the need to safeguard coal supplies and boost the local economy.

Environment and planning minister Carwyn Jones said: “It was a commitment of this Welsh Assembly Government to build on the concept of buffer zones to protect communities from opencast sites.

“Coal is vital to our economy and we must safeguard future access to supplies.

“However, we must not do this at the expense of the quality of life of people living near potential extraction sites.

“The guidance provides technical advice to Minerals Planning Authorities on how to balance these conflicting demands.

“The majority of the Technical Advice Group, which informed this policy, recommended a minimum buffer zone of 200 metres between opencast mines and nearby housing.

“Acknowledging the level of public concern about opencast mining, the Welsh Assembly Government has decided to go beyond this and raise the distance to 350 metres.

“Anything greater than 350 metres would appear to have a damaging effect on the coal industry in Wales, and would severely limit our ability to supply the energy we depend on for our everyday needs.

“This precautionary approach seeks to maintain and improve the quality of life in line with the Welsh Assembly Government’s vision set out in ‘Wales – A Better Country’ and its commitment to social justice, to health, and to developing strong and safe communities.”

By Sam Bond

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