Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence

Written Evidence from G M Ball, PACT

  I am writing to you as both secretary of PACT (Protecting And Conserving Together—Anti-Opencast Group in Kenfig Hill and district) and also as an individual.

  As you are well aware, this year has had a long drawn out winter and summer seemed to be never arriving. At last the sun has returned and families are able to enjoy outdoor living in their gardens, the surrounding environment and local countryside amenities.

  It is therefore so ironic that, as soon as the people emerge from their houses, then so do the diggers from the local opencast site, throwing up dust clouds and releasing diesel fumes into our fresh air. A new phase of soil stripping has begun, bringing with it all the problems that this operation brings. Once again, people living near to the site are experiencing respiratory, and skin and eye problems. Windows and doors are having to be kept closed, even though temperatures are hitting the high 80s.

  We were told, when complaints were made recently, that a Welsh Assembly agricultural representative had given the go-ahead for this operation to begin and that this last phase of opencast was also agreed previously by planning. When speaking to the local council officers, we were assured that pollution levels were poor to moderate anyway and that the opencast was working within "acceptable" limits. But to whom is it acceptable? It is certainly NOT acceptable to the people. They are the ones who know the impact best. They are the ones who can provide first-hand information to the experts, visually, environmentally and health related. If everyone is going to be a part of decision making as is now promised, then everyone should certainly be a part of decision making with regard to the opencast. Democracy is a game with many different players, but health and the environment is an area that everyone should be able to play a part in.

  At the moment, dust clouds are blowing towards Cefn Cribbwr, Kenfig Hill and Pen Y Bryn. We are breathing in PM 2.5s each day, as well as low grade diesel fumes. If we complain, we are called nimbies, but what is a nimby? As secretary of PACT, I have had complaints off people living two to three miles away from the present site. That makes it not just the "in my back yard" syndrome!

  New evidence is once more emerging on particulates and diesel (see enclosed reports) and, although there seems to be a block on these reports in the UK, they reveal probably the most important evidence to prevent the extension being allowed since the year 2000. What is evident from the study on particulates is that the effects of cumulative ingestion of PM 2.5 particulates has definite effects on health, especially respiratory and cardio-vascular related disease, resulting sometimes in mortality. (PM 25s are still not measured in the UK!!)

  Last week PACT attended a talk on sustainability. We were all told to be individually responsible. But where is the example coming from? It is certainly not by allowing polluting industries, such as opencast, to continue. The Welsh Assembly have also spent a lot of money producing an environmental strategy for Wales with wonderful ideas and plans for the future. Throughout it a need for balance between industry and the environment is referred to. But, when threshold levels are far too high, allowing polluting activities to continue, what happens to the needs of the people? If thresholds were lowered, then people would not be suffering as they are now. The door is open for councils, businesses and the governing bodies to get out of the lack of balance that exists now.

  We cannot change the past, but Wales could have a cleaner, better future from now on.

  Could somebody in the Government or the WAG also answer the question "Why is Wales the worst health blackspot in the UK, Europe and possibly the world?" Are we all a nation of lazy, socially deprived, poor diet conscious, smoking beer drinkers? I think not! It is obvious to the non-expert that it is industrial pollution and its legacy that is causing the ill health.

  We believe that the excuse that is always given to us by council officials when we complain, that the source of the pollution cannot be specifically identified, is NO excuse to allow even more industrial pollution in the form of opencast to be placed in an area that is already vulnerable, having high cases of serious illnesses. We want a presumption against opencast so that the precautionary approach is rigidly adhered to and is NOT just an option for the decision makers. If it is possible for coal to be burned cleanly, and there is a future for it in Wales, then proper investment for extraction methods such as underground mining or the new technology of coal gasification should be the only options, making opencast a thing of the past.This would prove that the government are genuine about their environmental concerns and would provide the balance between the environment and the needs and health of the population. To allow opencast mining to continue is political hypocrisy.

  We have also been told by local council Planning Officers that the HIA on the Parc Slip/Margam opencast extension and the Coal M Tan can be used and referred to as little or as much as the councils decide. Where does that leave the communities living close by?

  In the past you have voiced your concerns on our behalf, and for this we are very grateful. Please could you help us once again?

13 June 2006

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