Caerphilly councillors have rejected plans for an opencast mine in the Rhymney Valley, despite the threat of potential legal action by the developer.
Developer Miller Argent threatened to sue to Caerphilly County Borough Council if its planning committee stood by a decision to vote against the proposed Nant Llesg mine between Fochriw and Rhymney.
On June 24, councillors went against planning officers and called for reasons to object to the mine and today, August 5, they ratified the decision, despite their own officials urging them to accept the proposals.
The planned mine would have seen six million tonnes of coal mined over at least 14 years on a 478 hectare site, offering up to 239 jobs.
But a campaign led by residents, environmentalists and climate change activists urged councillors to say no on grounds of visual impact.
At a packed meeting, where protesters filed into the chamber and foyer of the council offices, the planning committee voted unanimously to reject the plan.
As the vote was declared cheers went up in the public gallery, with cries of “well done” aimed at councillors, while jubilant protesters sang the Welsh national anthem.
The committee’s chair, Cllr David Carter, supported a call by Cllr Gaynor Oliver to reject the proposal.
He said: “The visual impact affects the whole community from the children who are going to school to the elderly and sick.
“The people of the Northern Rhymney Valley are being asked to pay to big a price for this development.”
Speaking after the decision Twyn Carno councillor Carl Cuss said: “It’s fantastic and what I expected.
“We saw at the last meeting councillors were adamant they wanted to refuse it.”
Terry Evans, chair of United Valleys Action Group said: “It’s absolutely brilliant. They didn’t bend and didn’t crack in in the face of financial pressure from that company.
“They withstood the pressure from the company and from their own officers. But it’s councillors not officer that make a decision.”
Prior to the meeting protesters gathered outside the council offices, with speakers opposing the mine on grounds of dust, environmental impact, sustainable jobs, the lasting impact after the mine is spent and climate change.
Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins, who is also chair of Wales Against Opencast Mining, said: “This is the last thing we want for our communities, I hope that Caerphilly Council have the backbone to reject this application.
“We don’t want jobs for the sake of jobs we want jobs that are sustainable for the future of Wales.”
Marianne Owens of the Public and Civil Services Union National Executive, and climate change committee, said that jobs “should not come at the cost of our communities’ health”.
She said: “PCS are calling for an end to fossil fuels and call for a million green jobs to combat cuts and austerity.”
Friends of the Earth Cymru Director, Gareth Clubb, called on the Welsh Government to make Wales the first country to cease extracting fossil fuels by putting a moratorium on fracking and opencast mining.
Prior to the meeting the managing director of Miller Argent, Neil Brown, wrote to councillors to urge them to pass the plans or face paying the company’s costs for the application and a foreseeable appeal.
Campaigners said the letter amounted to “threats and intimidation”.
Mr Brown wrote: “We reiterate that in the event of refusal and appeal the substantial costs would be in no one’s interest.
“Your officers have highlighted the potential for a substantial award of costs against the council.
“Miller Argent would seek to recover costs from the council.
“Please ask yourself what services could be provided by the council with that money?”
But, Friends of the Earth said they would support the council should they face legal action.
Craig Bennet, CEO of Friends of the Earth, said: “The council has made a decision on the side of people and the environment.
“We will not walk away from councils that make brave, sensible, science-based, decisions when they could face legal battles.”
Mr Clubb added: “If the company decide to appeal we’ll be side by side with the council all the way.”
A statement from Miller Argent read: “We are hugely disappointed that the Caerphilly County Borough Council’s planning committee decided today to go against the advice of their professional officers and refuse the application for the Nant Llesg surface mine.
“This project would have brought up to 239 highly paid jobs and considerable investment to the Rhymney Valley, as well as millions of pounds worth of additional benefits to the local community.
“The benefit fund alone represents up to £1,000 for each local household.
“Taken together, these would have transformed the economic future of the area for the better.
“We will now assess the implications of this decision and consider the options available to us.”
Cllr Ken James, Caerphilly County Borough Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for Planning said: “Today’s outcome signals the conclusion of one of the most complex and in-depth planning applications that our planning committee has ever had to consider.
“As those in support of and those objecting to the proposal will be aware, this has been an extremely lengthy and detailed process, and I fully understand and appreciate the strength of feeling by all interested parties.
“Ultimately, our planning committee had to make a judgement, and 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.”