Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): The Parc Slip Margam open cast coal site spreads across the Bridgend, Ogmore and Aberavon constituencies. The majority of the site lies within Neath Port Talbot council area, which tends to take the lead in negotiations with a company called Celtic Energy. That company exploited the site for many years, but the major settlement affected by the open cast site is in the Bridgend county borough area, and the largest community is in my constituency of Bridgend.
The mine is a mile and a half scar on the valley floor running from Cefn Cribwr to Cynffig hill, and it includes a huge deep void that is filling with water. The site is a blight on the environment, and it poses a risk to local children who unfortunately use it for motor cycle scrambling, or swim in the fetid water in the void. Local residents live in fear of water cascading into their homes and polluting local rivers. The site urgently needs restoration, and for local people the questions are simple: who has responsibility for restoration? How can they be made to accept that responsibility? Where will the almost £60 million needed for the work come from? If any budding script writers out there want a plot with twists and turns, a tale of Government failure, of political failure at national and local level, or of financial greed, dodgy practices and legal failure, this is the story for them. If Erin Brockovich has nothing to do, I invite her to come to south Wales and try her hand at Parc Slip.
Coaling at Parc Slip goes back to before 1985 and the British Coal Corporation. Between 1985 and 1994 applications to extend the open cast were made, refused and overturned at public inquiry, with permission always bringing with it responsibilities to restore the site. The Coal Authority Act 1994 privatised the coal industry, and a company that later became Celtic Energy bought the freehold for a number of sites in south Wales, including Parc Slip. In his ruling in Cardiff on 18 February, Mr Justice Hickinbottom stated that all those arrangements required Celtic to restore the land to countryside and agricultural use once mining was complete.
Mr Will Watson, chief executive officer of Celtic Energy, and until March 2010 the corporate director of environmental services at Neath Port Talbot council, claimed in an e-mail to me: “The situation has been exacerbated…by the decision in 1994 made by the Government of the day to take a larger cash receipt for the sale of the company in return for a 10-year bond free period. Had escrow funds been put away for example at today’s level of around £10 million per year for the years 1994 to 2004, then the fund would now stand at around £155 million (assuming it was invested to simply cover inflation)…Since the UK Government had the £100 million in 1994 (worth around £178 million with inflation today) it seems reasonable to me to ask the UK Government to contribute to a solution at Margam.”
There needs to be a clear answer to this from the Government. Mr Justice Hickinbottom said that responsibility lies with Celtic, but Celtic claims that it lies with the Government. Which is it? My constituents need to know. Does Her Majesty’s Treasury have any responsibility at all for the restoration of part of this site because of the nature of the sale in 1994? Yes or no? We need an answer.
Parliament has the legislative competence and moral responsibility to deal with this mess. I hope that today we can agree that one of the first priorities of whoever sits on the Government Benches in May will be to work with the Welsh Assembly Government, the Minerals Planning Authority, the Coal Authority, Natural Resources Wales and any other relevant statutory body to send a clear message to Celtic that it must face its responsibilities and that we will pursue it. Even if legislative reform is needed, it must face its responsibilities.
Communities should expect, as victims of incompetence and chicanery, to have the full support of this House to resolve this situation. I urge the Minister to give a sense of hope that we will unite to tackle the problem by calling a meeting of Government, the Welsh Assembly, local authorities and others to begin to thrash out a way forward, and to make a commitment that we will work together to seek a resolution to this appalling situation.