The residents of Cefn Cribwr and Kenfig Hill in Wales have been looking forward to the beginning of 2009 for a long time. You might think that 2009 is not particularly different to the beginning of any other new year really, in fact maybe a little less exciting due to the current economic climate. However, if you lived in Cefn Cribwr, Bridgend you might have a different perspective.
Adjacent to these villages is the Margam Open Cast coal mine, an excavation that covers 40 hectares – up to 120 metres deep in some places – a monstrous black pit that is unimaginable in its extent. The coal mine was originally an extension of the Parc Slip Mine which was active between the 1940s and the 1990s and then from 2001 onwards. It was finally due to finish being worked on in autumn of 2008. 2009 would be the first year where noisy and dusty quarrying operations would not blight the local community. Rumour had it that the site might even be restored to something that was recreationally beneficial to the community.
Unfortunately this happy event now looks like it may not happen for at least another 5 years, if not longer. On Tuesday 3rd February a Planning Inquiry into proposals for an extension of the Margam Open Cast Coal mine is due to start. Current owners Celtic Energy have applied to extend the already giant Margam site and allow an additional 1.7million tonnes of coal to be extracted, around 300 tonnes a year.
You might wonder why the Woodland Trust is taking an interest in this case? Well, the same blight on the local community is also being inflicted on a beautiful area of ancient woodland called Hafod Heulog sited next door to the coal workings (although it was there first!). The extension will cause the woodland to become an island lost in a sea of coal. The resulting impacts on the remaining woodland are severe. Coed Hafod Heulog is a haven for bats, otters and many other special species that flourish in ancient woodland; land which has been wooded since at least the 1600s. Many of the species that currently depend on this habitat will not be able to cope with the enforced changes, seriously threatening the future of the wood.
So on Tuesday we will defending the fate of Coed Hafod Heulog at the Inquiry, along with the Local Planning Authority and local residents. Let’s hope that the Inspector recognises the serious legacy an extension will leave on this already exhausted part of Wales. We will be outlining the impacts on the woodland should this go ahead, and we hope the Inspector attaches the same importance to the woodland environment as we do. We are confident in our case – however one of the most daunting things about this situation for us are previous results from campaigns against open cast coal. Many have succeeded in persuading the Local Planning Authority to refuse permission, against which the applicant invariably appeals and an Inquiry is held – as is the case here. An Inquiry can uphold the original refusal, or decide to allow planning permission. And with a central Government that seems intent on reviving the coal industry and has the power to over-rule further refusal, the worst may yet happen at Coed Hafod Heulog.