Plans for a 478 hectare opencast mine near Rhymney have been derailed in what was described as a victory for residents over “big-business”.
The planned Nant Llesg mine would see six million tonnes of coal mined, over at least 14 years on a site between Fochriw and Rhymney.
But councillors on Caerphilly County Borough Council’s Planning Committee rejected a recommendation by planning officers to grant developer Miller Argent permission to go ahead with the project.
Instead, at a fiery meeting on June 24, they unanimously called for a decision to be deferred in order to vote on a new recommendation that gives legal reasons to refuse the proposal.
Twyn Carno councillor Carl Cuss raised his objections to the plans saying they “contradict themselves on many levels”.
After the verdict Cllr Cuss said: “As a local member that’s a fantastic result.
“There was a lot of concern locally and I’m glad the planning committee share the views of the community.
“I’m very happy that even though the planning recommendation was for permission to be granted, the voice of the community was heard.”
Eddy Blanche, Chair of Fochriw and Pentwyn Residents’ Association, said he was “elated” by the decision.
He said: “We are pleased that the council listened to the residents and did what they should be duty bound to do, and respond to the residents and not big business.”
Terry Evans, Chair of the United Valleys Action Group (UVAG), said: “The heart of the people won.”
Anti-opencast protesters rallied outside the meeting, but were outnumbered by a counter-protest of members of the trade union Unite, who support the plans.
The workers from Ffos-y-Fran opencast, run by Miller Argent in Merthyr Tydfil, claimed the mine would protect their jobs.
Stuart Thomas, who works at the Merthyr mine, said: “We’ve all got kids and wives and mortgages,.
“It’s a good job, it’s good money, there’s local employees, what more do you want?”
The developers claim the mine would bring around 240 jobs to the area, but those opposed said the scale of the mine would see businesses move out – leading to job loses.
It was claimed by Unite that the average annual wage at Fros y Fran is £36,000, and similarly paid jobs would be available at Nant Llesg.
Miller Argent Director James Poyner said the company was the “envy of our competitors” due to its local workforce, and claimed 80% of jobs created would go to people living in the area.
He said: “Coal will remain a fundamental part of the industrial landscape and prosperity of South Wales. We want those jobs to be available for local people.”
The proposal was also supported by representatives of RWE and Tata Steel, who would be major purchasers of Nant Llesg coal.
Those opposed to the mine claimed it would bring dust, noise and light pollution, have a negative impact on residents’ health and called for the focus to be put on renewable energy.
Chris Austin, Secretary of UVAG, said to accept the proposal would be “folly”.
He said: “This proposal will commit the authority to delivering a product that the world sees as a pariah.”
A number of members of the planning committee spoke out against the plans, with none speaking in support, prior to the unanimous vote for a rethink.
Cllr John Bevan said: “If you approve this, you’re kicking the people of Rhymney in the teeth.”
Cllr Dave Rees said: “Let’s help the people of Rhymney, Pontlottyn and Fochriw have their heads held high and when they do, we don’t want them getting black dust in their teeth.”
After the decision Mr Poyner, of Miller Argent, said: “We are disappointed that Caerphilly County Borough Council’s Planning Committee chose to defer its decision on the application for the Nant Llesg project, particularly as the advice from the professional officers was to grant approval.
“Furthermore the Welsh Government Department for Natural Resources had also confirmed that the application should not be called in by Welsh ministers and should be determined by Caerphilly County Borough Council.
“Considerable effort went into getting the planning application right and this decision means the opportunity to bring much-needed employment to the region, as well as considerable additional benefits to the community, has now been delayed unnecessarily.”
But Plaid Cymru AM and Penyrheol councillor Lindsay Whittle welcomed the decision.
The South Wales East Am said: “I’m very pleased at the decision which, I know, will delight residents of the upper Rhymney Valley.
“Whilst we want to see jobs coming to the area it cannot be at any cost. Wales paid the price of coal in the past and should not have to do so in the future.
“There were strong environmental issues to refuse this application as well as dust and noise. I was told by one business in the area that they would move out if this opencast scheme went ahead.”
Gareth Clubb, Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, who addressed councillors, said: “This proposed opencast coal mine is dirty, destructive and deeply unpopular. We’re thoroughly delighted that councillors have unanimously called for it to be rejected.
“Time after time, elected members have stood up for communities against big fossil fuel industries. We saw it in the National Assembly when they voted for a moratorium on opencast coal in April. And we’ve seen it again here with Caerphilly councillors voting against a massive opencast mine on the doorstep of communities in the upper Rhymney Valley.
“Public opinion is firmly against new opencast mines, and we call on the Welsh Government to implement a moratorium on opencast in Wales immediately”.
A report recommending refusing planning permission will be considered by councillors on August 4.