Environment and Sustainability Committee
Inquiry into Energy Policy and Planning in Wales

EPP 167 – The Coal Authority




Date of Submission: 22 September 2011




1.    The Coal Authority (“the Authority”) is a Non-Departmental Public Body sponsored by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).  The Authority was established by Parliament in 1994 to undertake specific statutory responsibilities associated with the licensing of coal mining operations in Britain; handle subsidence claims which are not the responsibility of licensed coalmine operators; deal with property and historic liability issues and provide information on coal mining.


2.    The Authority operates within the three planning systems across Wales, England and Scotland. The main areas of planning interest to the Authority in terms of policy making relate to:


·                     the safeguarding of coal as a mineral in accordance with the advice contained in Planning Policy Wales, Minerals Planning Policy Wales and Minerals Technical Advice Note 2: Coal (MTAN2) in Wales; and


·                     ensuring that future development is undertaken safely and reduce the future liability on the tax payer for subsidence and other mining related hazards claims arising from the legacy of coal mining in accordance with the advice in Planning Policy Wales, Minerals Planning Policy Wales and MTAN2 in Wales.


3.    The Authority is also obliged to help to ensure that the aims of UK Energy Policy published by our sponsor DECC is also delivered, both in relation to energy mix and energy security.




4.    The Energy White Paper, published in May 2007, estimated that “by 2020 fossil fuels are expected to supply the great majority of UK energy needs and 14% of primary energy demand will be met by coal.” 


5.    In March 2008, the Rt Hon. John Hutton MP, Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform stated that “…Fossil fuels will continue to play an important role in ensuring that flexibility of the electricity generation system as well.  Electricity demand fluctuates continually, but the fluctuations can be very pronounced during winter, requiring rapid short term increases in production.  Neither wind nor nuclear can fulfil that roleWe therefore will continue to need this back up from fossil fuels, with coal a key source of that flexibility....” 


6.    The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan White Paper published in July 2009 sets out the national strategy for climate and energy and suggests that by 2020, clean coal will contribute 22% to the overall energy mix (this is an increase on that predicted in the 2007 Energy White Paper).  The 2009 White Paper re-confirms that “coal and gas will remain important to ensure our electricity supply is reliable and secure as we move towards greater dependence on intermittent sources like wind…The UK needs to maintain security of supplies of fossil fuels, which will remain an essential input to our electricity supplies for many years to come.  Around a third of this is supplied by the UK coal industry.”


7.    In February 2010, Lord Hunt reiterated the role for coal within the UK’s future energy mix and stated that: “Take the 3 week cold spell after Christmas and over New Year as an example, coal generation accounted for a weekly average of nearly 40% and a daily average of 36% [of the UK’s total electricity supply]. … Coal has been fundamental to UK energy needs for more than two centuries, and will continue to be so. Providing that its carbon by-products can be managed. Fossil fuels are abundant and relatively cheap, are able to respond flexibly to variations in demand, and are likely to remain an important part of our energy supply for some time to come.”


8.    In March 2011, Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change confirmed that the Blueprint for our energy future rests on three pillars: renewable energy; nuclear energy without public subsidy; and clean coal and gas delivered by carbon capture and storage.


9.    In looking to help deliver UK Energy Policy, the  Authority works with the planning system in Wales both in relation to the Local Development Plan (LDP) process and the Development Management Regime.


10.  The Authority seeks to ensure that a fair, reasonable and equitable policy basis exists for the future consideration of coal extraction proposals (by underground and surface mining methods).  This needs to be accompanied by appropriate recognition and policy flexibility to cater for emerging new coal technologies such as coal bed methane, abandoned mine methane, underground coal gasification or the utilisation of mine water as an underground heat source.  To complement this there also needs to be an appropriate policy framework addressing the safeguarding of surface coal resources from sterilisation by non-mineral surface development and promotion of the prior extraction of surface coal ahead of development where sterilisation would occur.


11.  The Authority is keen to ensure that coal resources are not unduly sterilised by new development.  In cases where this may be the case, the Authority would be seeking prior extraction of the coal.  Prior extraction of coal also has the benefit of removing any potential land instability problems in the process.  This is a wider policy issue that it particularly pertinent in Wales where substantial mining legacy is concentrated. 


12.  The Authority owns almost all of the coal on behalf of the nation. If a development is to intersect, disturb or otherwise interfere with coal or mines of coal then the prior written permission of the Authority is required.  A licence is required from the Authority to extract coal.  Many of the new coal technologies fall within the sphere of ‘Oil and Gas’ regulation such that appropriate licences are required from both DECC and the Authority.


13.  Although mining legacy is prevalent in Wales the Authority is seeking to ensure through the planning system that such land is subjected to beneficial re-use and appropriately remediated.  This also helps to remove future liability from the public purse.




14.  The coalfields in Wales are located within 19 out of the 22 local planning authority areas (including 2 of the 3 National Parks).  The coalfield covers some 2,876 sq km of Wales, which is some 17% of the total land area 16,698 sq km.


15.  The Authority comments on individual planning applications consulted in accordance with its prescribed criteria and responds to all Local Development Plans produced.  We have been actively involved in the LDPs that have been adopted so far.  Our comments are based upon our experiences of interacting with the planning system in Wales.


16.  We would like to make submissions under the following headings taken from the series of Welsh National Planning Policy Documents (Planning Policy Wales; Minerals Planning Policy Wales; and MTAN2: Coal):



Areas Where Coal Operations Would Not Normally Be Acceptable


17.  This is an aspect of policy which is utilised in Wales but not in England and Scotland.  As the Committee will be aware there is a private members bill currently being promoted in the Westminster Parliament on the issue.


18.  Whilst the Authority has no objection to the underlying principles that have prompted this tool, namely the protection of communities and local residents from the potential effects of mineral extraction, as a planning tool this is highly inflexible.  The policy framework in Minerals Planning Policy Wales paragraph 15 and MTAN2 paragraphs 26 to 31 and 49 to 54 are not applied consistently by LPA’s.  This area is generally utilised as a 500m zone around settlements where LPA’s try to impose a blanket ban on coal extraction, despite MTAN2: Coal clearly setting out exceptional circumstances where coal extraction should be permitted.


19.  A number of LPA’s have promoted new development proposals including site allocations within 500m of existing permitted coal extraction sites contrary to the principles of the buffer zones which are supposed to be designated around these sites. 


20.  The Authority advocates that all sites should be considered on an individual basis taking account of local topography and the types of policy considerations set out in paragraphs 49 to 54 of MTAN2.  These types of circumstances should be utilised to determine when new and extensions to existing coal extraction may be permissible within close proximity of settlements and that defined ‘Areas Where Coal Working May Not Be Acceptable’ are not required.


21.  The Authority is concerned that the 500m buffer zone effectively sterilises a large proportion of the workable reserves in South Wales.  The Authority has undertaken an impact assessment across South Wales in collaboration with the British Geological Survey (BGS) in relation to the surface mining licences granted since privatisation in 1994.  The BGS at the Coal TAN Working Group on the 27July 2006 highlighted that their research showed that a 350 metre buffer zone in Wales would sterilise 55% of the known coal resource and 66% of the resource would be sterilised by the use of a 500 metre buffer around settlements.  The Authority is gravely concerned that the use of the 500m defined ‘Areas Where Coal Working May Not Be Acceptable’ ‘buffer strip’ by LPA’s can mislead communities and will effectively sterilise 66% of the coal resource in Wales contrary to the aims and principles of National Policy.


22.  The Authority considers that this could seriously threatening future UK energy security and the future viability of the indigenous coal industry.  It is important to safeguard the whole coal resource in order to prevent sterilisation in line with National Policy and the Government’s future energy policy, and facilitate extraction in appropriate circumstances.


23.  The Authority recommends that National Policy on this matter should be reconsidered with the focus of emphasis moved to proposals for new coal extraction close to or within communities having to meet the requirements set out in paragraphs 49 to 54 of MTAN2, these would include for example: