Promoted by Mark Ward-Jones on behalf of the Torfaen Constituency Labour Party at 27 Brunel Road, Fairwater, Cwmbran, Torfaen NP44 4QT.
The Torfaen AM and campaigner against the plans for opencast mining at Varteg has responded to the latest request for comments before the amended application is considered by Torfaen County Borough Council.
Making her longstanding concerns known, Lynne Neagle AM pointed to the close proximity of the site to resident’s homes, the impact on the neighbouring UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the divisive effect it is taking on a close knit community.
As the local Torfaen AM however, Lynne also met with residents in favour of the plans, at their request, and has repeatedly conveyed their views throughout a fair process. She was also clear about representing the views of constituents wider afield in areas like Blaenavon who will see trucks transporting coal via local roads, and the families of children attending nearby Ysgol Bryn Onnen.
Lynne has been engaging with local residents to gather their views on the proposals. Having attended the Public Meeting organised by the Council on 11th February, she followed up with a private surgery of her own for residents to meet with her on a one-to-one basis.
In all of this, including knocking on doors with local Councillors and writing to residents on her contact base, the disconnect in a small community has become increasingly apparent amongst residents who all want the best for their area. Her plan going forward is to explore alternatives to opencast restoration in the area, involving residents on both sides.
Responding to the latest request for comments, Lynne Neagle AM wrote:
“I can see very little of substance in this amended application that has altered since the one that was considered by the Council and rejected by the Welsh Government in 2013 following a full planning inquiry.
I have repeatedly made the point that the proposed development is well within the 500m MTAN 2 (Coal) planning guidance issued by the Welsh Government. I opened a Senedd debate last year calling for a moratorium on opencast mining so that the Welsh Government has the breathing space I believed it needed to carry out a strategic review into the impact of opencast in Wales and our future strategy for the industry.
In response, the Minister announced his intention to undertake a focused review of MTAN 2, including convening a summit which I attended. As I have since received written assurance that it is Welsh Government’s intention to begin a 12 week consultation on revised guidance before May 2016 – I see great merit in waiting for the outcome of this national review as it is fundamental to the issues under consideration with this application.
This application has been hanging over Varteg residents for over 14 years now, and has brought with it a rift in a small community where everyone wants the best for their area. I‘m very concerned that [during engagement events] I met with some people who were afraid to speak out and make their views public. This is not conducive to a fair and transparent process and I hope that, should the proposal be rejected, it will not be re-submitted.”
Over her concerns on the impact of the World Heritage Site, Lynne Neagle AM proactively engaged ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments & Sites), arranging for them to visit the site. The latest developments are that they, along with CADW, have recommended the application at Varteg Hill be refused and objected to the development, respectively, mainly due to its impact on the very local UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS). In this latest submission, the Torfaen AM encouraged elected Councillors and Officials to give great weight to their comments, as is cited in Planning Policy Wales guidance.
Lynne also noted concerns which she recently raised in the Senedd Chamber, that residents have spoken to her of payments offers of £100 per household per year for the duration of the scheme. However she was also told that, when approached by TCBC, the developers did not provide confirmation. Raising it with the Minister last week, she called for support to be made available to Varteg residents should any such ‘Community Benefits’ offers be taken forward – to ensure that openness, transparency and equality amongst residents is upheld.
The Torfaen AM detailed her concerns in full in the consultation response, as she has encouraged all residents and stakeholders to do; it will now be for elected members and officials to consider these remarks. Lynne Neagle AM ended her response detailing that she has formally requested that the Minister call-in the application at the appropriate time.