How we regulate coal extraction
Welsh Government Policy
Welsh Government’s coal extraction policy objective is “to avoid the continued extraction and consumption of fossil fuels” and “to bring a managed end to the extraction and use of coal”.
Effectively this means that new coal authority mining operation licences or variations to existing licences are not likely to be granted, unless in exceptional circumstances, whereby each application will be decided on its own merits but must clearly demonstrate:
- why the extraction is required to support industrial non-energy generating uses for coal
- why the extraction is needed in the context of decarbonisation and climate change emission reductions targets, or to ensure the safe winding-down of mining operations or site remediation
- how the extraction contributes to Welsh prosperity and our role as a globally responsible Wales
Under current Welsh Government policy, there is a presumption against granting applications for new coal extraction operations.
Where a new extraction permit is granted there will be no presumption against granting mining waste management permissions.
Our Role as regulator
We are one of the environmental regulators of the coal industry in Wales. We help ensure that waste from coal extraction is managed in a way that protects people and the environment.
Whilst we do not provide permission for the extraction of coal, we do regulate the management of the mining waste and the impact the extraction of coal has on emissions to surface water, groundwater and its impact on water resources.
Our role as an advisor in the Planning system
Planning permission is required before starting any coal extraction activities. Planning Policy Wales edition 11 sets out Welsh Government’s objective ‘to avoid the continued extraction and consumption of fossil fuels.’
Applicants will have to provide robust and credible evidence showing that their proposals conform to the planning energy hierarchy and how they contribute to decarbonising the energy system. The aim of the hierarchy is to discourage energy mineral proposals.
Proposals for coal extraction should not be permitted except in “wholly exceptional circumstances”. If a proposal is put forward it must demonstrate why it is needed in the context of climate change emissions reductions targets and for reasons of national energy security.
If a local planning authority does not propose to refuse an application for a new coal mine or an extension to an existing mine, they must notify Welsh Ministers. The Welsh Ministers may choose to call in the planning application, or if appropriate issue a direction that the application may not be approved until such time as directed by the Welsh Ministers.
When consulted we will be expected to continue to provide advice to developers and local planning authorities for such schemes where they affect our development planning consultation topics.
Our role as conservation advisor
We also have a substantial advisory role in considering restoration schemes through the planning system. When a mine is to be restored, we have an advisory role in terms of advising how to restore for ecological improvement and whether there are any protected habitats and species that need to be considered.
Whilst coal extraction can have a devastating effect on the natural environment, when coal extraction ceases and restoration begin, disused coal extraction facilities can provide habitat for a variety of fauna and flora including protected species.
Disused mine shafts may become colonised by various species of bats and settlement ponds can become a breeding ground for frogs and newts. It is therefore important that advice is sought, and appropriately timed and targeted surveys are carried out prior to any restoration work commencing.
Our role as a land manager
We manage a significant area of land on behalf of the people of Wales. As a land manager NRW must give due consideration to any requests for access to land that it manages, and each application will be considered on its own merits. However, current Welsh Government policy on coal extraction, presumes against allowing coal extraction. When considering access requests for coal extraction on land that NRW manages, Welsh Government policy is a material consideration.
Although requests to access this land for coal extraction are unlikely to be supported, there is the potential for access requests to use this land for access/transport to and from adjacent facilities. Welsh Government policy remains a material consideration for these requests.
An additional consideration for NRW, although not included in Welsh Government's Coal Policy concerns historic coal tips. NRW managed land is adjacent to and has on it several historic coal tips. Access may be required to make safe any tips on NRW managed land identified as a priority for safety reasons and access may also be required to and from adjacent land for tip safety works. Such requests for access are almost always likely to be granted in line with Welsh Government requirements.
There remain a few small coal extraction sites on the NRW Estate run by 3rd parties with historic rights. We will support these operators with the safe closure and remediation of their facilities.
NRW may also receive requests to access land it manages for restoration of closed mines. Access that on balance constitutes environmental improvement and contributes to the wellbeing of the people of Wales is likely to be permitted.