Welsh council rejects plans for new opencast coal mine

Climate change campaigners have promised legal support to a Welsh council that rejected a new opencast coal mine, but which now faces being sued for costs by the company.

Councillors on the planning committee of Caerphilly county borough council unanimously rejected an application by Miller Argent to extract 6m tonnes of coal at Nant Llesg, near Rhymney.

The decision, which was greeted by cheers from hundreds of people at a rally outside the council offices in Caerphilly on Wednesday, opens the way for the company to appeal to the Welsh government and to force the council to pay its costs which could mount to several hundred thousand pounds.

Miller Argent CEO Neil Brown last week week wrote to Caerphilly councillorsthreatening to try to recover “substantial” costs from the financially vulnerable council if they voted down the mine.

“Your officers have highlighted the potential for a substantial award of costs against the council. Please ask yourself what services could be provided by the council with that money?”

But Friends of the Earth, which has around 180,000 supporters in Wales and England, said it would help the council with legal advice and possibly financial support if the company chose to appeal or if the case went to a public inquiry.

“We will not walk away from councils that make brave, sensible, science-based, decisions when they could face legal battles,” said Craig Bennet, CEO of Friends of the Earth. “The council has made a decision on the side of people and the environment.”

Miller Argent, which already operates Britain’s largest surface mine, close to the projected mine, said it was considering its options. “One option is an appeal and part of that appeal would be the opportunity to seek costs,” said a spokesman.

“We are hugely disappointed that the Caerphilly county borough council’s planning committee decided to go against the advice of their professional officers and refuse the application. This project would have brought up to 239 highly-paid jobs and considerable inward investment to the Rhymney Valley,” it said in a statement.

It claimed that the 1,100-acre mine would benefit each local household by around £1,000 over the 14-year lifetime of the mine and would “transform the economic future of the area for the better”.

Ken James, Caerphilly county borough council’s cabinet member with responsibility for planning said: “The outcome signals the conclusion of one of the most complex and in-depth planning applications that our planning committee has ever had to consider.

“Ultimately, our planning committee had to make a judgement, and it voted to reject the proposal on the grounds of visual impact. I would reiterate however, that this decision was taken following a thorough, lengthy and in-depth planning process.”

John Vidal

This article first appeared in the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

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