Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Miller Argent (South Wales) Limited

Q133  Albert Owen: Mr Poyner, you said in your submission: "diversification has got to be the order of the day" and "I wholeheartedly support a balanced, mixed energy portfolio". How big do you think the role of coal should be in that portfolio?

  In my response to Question 133, I made reference to a projected "Generation Gap" that I stated will occur if no new power stations are introduced. I highlighted that 22 GW of power generation will come off stream between now and the year 2015. I now wish to add that that generation gap will increase to 29 GW if the existing AGR Stations do not get a life extension and if my projection of 1% growth demand actually increases to 1.5% per annum.

  To fill that "Generation Gap" we need to build on average new generating capacity of 2.5 GW every year between now and 2015. This programme is already too late for nuclear to contribute (first new build unlikely to be on line until 2016) and the Gap is far too large for renewables. Therefore it is vital that we start new build and retrofit to existing coal plant now.

  Lack of government action will inevitably result in a dominance of gas generation and will lead to a further "dash for gas", as gas stations will be the only stations that could be built quickly, regardless of costs and consequence.

  If Government wants to favour gas then all it has to do is procrastinate.

  Renewable energy sources must be developed further and indeed research and development needs to be accelerated, but in my view Wind is portrayed by some commentators to contribute much more than it realistically does and in fact can. This is very unfair to the Wind Power Industry as sooner or later they will be called to account and despite their valued contribution they will be measured to have failed miserably against the political aspirations that were not necessarily ever achievable.

  1.3  In the latest DTI publication "UK Energy in Brief 2006" it records that renewables in total accounted for 4.2% of energy generated in the UK in 2005 and that Wind contributed only 5.9% of that 4.2%—in other words Wind only contributed 0.25% of the total power generated in the UK.

SEPARATION DISTANCES AND BUFFER ZONES

Q159  Mr David Jones: Why should different considerations arise from site to site?

  On reading my answer to Question 159 I regret that I omitted to mention a further consideration, which is extremely important when addressing the point of buffer zones and that is: if the proposed scheme involves the removal of dereliction and/or dangers due to past underground workings etc. ie land stabilisation, then separation distances are not relevant, but the impacts are to be assessed on a case by case basis to judge the benefits and the potential impacts. This is precisely what exists in Scotland. Miller Argent has a copy letter from the Scottish Executive which states that where the clearance of derelict or despoiled land is the case then the recommended separation distance does not apply.

  1.5  Paragraph 32 of the draft COAL M TAN (January 2006) makes express provision for this wherein it states:

    Coal extraction may always be permitted for reasons of health and safety; or for the stabilisation of shallow mine workings or mine waste for ground remediation associated with built development or infrastructure, where coal extraction is the most sustainable option and meets the tests in MPPW.

RESTORATION

  Miller Argent wish to support the preservation of ancient woodland and can demonstrate their sincerity in this respect by referring to its own planning application for the Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme, where it adjusted its application boundary from that promoted by the local mineral authority in order to preserve the ancient woodland at Cwm Golau. This principle should also be applied to areas of high archaeological value.

  Most opencast coal mines adopt a working methodology that incorporates "progressive restoration": it does not make economic sense to do otherwise. This provides for the worked out areas of the site to be restored as new areas are being worked. Please see the following simplistic schematic sketch to illustrate the methodology.

  An advantage of the above working methodology is that the people most affected by the works at the start of the job are the ones who first reap the benefit of the restored site.

  Very often, as is the case at the Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme, there is a deficit of soils on surface that are needed for the restoration works. By opencasting it is possible to recover buried soils and to recover soil making material, which can then be used in the restoration of the site. It is estimated in the case of Ffos-y-fran that to restore the site without mining would require approximately 1.5 million tonnes of soil to be imported—which is just not physically or financially possible.

EVIDENCE SUBMITTED BY MEMBERS OF THE ORGANISATION PACT

  My general impression was that the two representatives of PACT were actually giving evidence of objection to a specific project namely that of Margam Parc Slip rather than addressing the issue of Energy in Wales in general and opencast coal in particular. I have no personal knowledge of this particular project nor do I think it appropriate for me to comment on the specifics of it in the context of the Welsh Affairs Committee's inquiry into Energy in Wales.

  Notwithstanding the above, The PACT representatives made general reference to some issues that do impact on the Welsh Opencast Coal Industry, namely:

    In their answer to Question 192 PACT seem to suggest that the Opencast Coal Industry is not part of the Welsh Coal Industry, clearly this is wrong. Opencast has always been a part of the Coal Industry in the UK and the fact that British Coal was privatised at the end of 1994 has no bearing on that whatsoever. All coal activities in the UK whether deep mined or surface mined are now carried out by private companies as opposed to nationalised companies.

    PACT suggests that the coal industry in Wales died out in the 1980s, which is also patently incorrect.

    In their answer to Question 197 PACT state that: "Nuisance dust is not the problem but there is no legislation at all for small particulates below PM10s".

    Ambient concentrations of Fine Particulate matter (PM10) are covered by the Air Quality (Wales) Regulations 2000.

    The national air quality objectives (in the AQ Regulations) are (a) annual mean of 40 micro g/m3, and (b) 50micro g/m3 24-hour mean not to be exceeded more than 35 times in a year.

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    Air Quality Limit Values Regulations 2003 implement the European Union's first and second "daughter" directives on ambient air quality assessment and management. It includes limit values for PM10.

NEWCASTLE STUDY

  In their answer to Question 198 and elsewhere in their evidence, PACT refer to the Newcastle Study, claiming that a lot of emphasis is put on this study by developers and that it [the study] tested children for asthma levels.

  I would firstly advise that "The Newcastle Study" is the term used for an epidemiological study carried out by The Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. The study was commissioned jointly by the Department of Health and the DETR and is entitled "Do particulates from opencast coal mining impair children's respiratory health?" (the Report). The Report is in fact the only study in the UK of its kind to concentrate on the effects from opencast coal mining on health.

  Regarding PACT's complaint that the Study is always being used by developers in response to air quality issues. The reason for this is quite straightforward and is to be found at Chapter 1 page 1 item 1.2 of the study report wherein it states: the fourth aim of the study was to inform the planning process, through the findings of the study.

  The Report studied five pairs of communities: 5 Communities close to operational opencast sites and 5 paired Control Communities some distance away. The Study and Control Communities were matched for socio-economic characteristics using Census data, information on urban/rural mix, the distance from the coast and geographic data.

  The Report details distances between the community monitor and the first point of operational activity of between 750 metres and 1,400 metres. PACT interprets this as being the distance from the site to the properties and residents the subject of the study. This is not correct; it is in fact the distance from the site to the monitors, which were generally located close to the centres of communities. All of the Opencast Study sites had residential properties close to their boundaries.

  The Report did not specifically test for asthma—the health outcomes covered different levels of severity of illness of the respiratory tract, eye and skin over different time periods. The study concluded that there was no link found between living in opencast communities and asthma.

  The Report summarised a number of key findings, some of which are as follows:

    —  The pattern of PM10 levels over time were similar in Opencast and Control Communities indicating regional influences.

    —  The cumulative or period prevalence of asthma, wheeze, bronchitis and other respiratory illness was similar in Opencast and Control Communities.

    —  Asthmatic children in Opencast Communities did not have more or more severe asthma attacks than children in Control Communities in the past year.

  In their answer to Question 216, PACT incorrectly refers to the Newcastle Study as being an outdated study.

  The study is in relative terms still young and more to the point still relevant!

  Developers'/opencasters' attention is expressly directed to the Newcastle Study in the various Planning Guidance documents relevant to England, Scotland and Wales.

  When the Report was first prepared it was reviewed by the "Committee on The Medical Effects Of Air Pollutants" (COMEAP) and they stated that "the study was of a very high standard."

  COMEAP is an Advisory Committee of independent experts that provides advice to Government Departments and Agencies on all matters concerning the potential toxicity and effects upon health of air pollutants.

  Most members are appointed as independent scientific and medical experts on the basis of their special skills and knowledge. The one exception to this is the public interest member of the Committee who is appointed for knowledge of consumer, and other, matters. At all times individuals are required to declare conflicts of interest and during discussions they may be disqualified at the Chairman's discretion from contributing to the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee.

  The independent members are supported in their work by a secretariat provided by the Department of Health. The secretariat have scientific expertise that enables them to provide members with comprehensive background information and briefing papers that inform the decision-making processes of the Committee.

  The Department of Health's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Pat Troop, at the time of the publication of the Report said:

    "This study was commissioned against a background of very real public concern about the possible impact opencast mining might have on the respiratory health of children, in particular increased rates of childhood asthma. This very thorough and high quality study has demonstrated that there are no such harmful effects and so should provide general reassurance to parents in areas where opencast mining is carried out at the moment or is planned at some time in the future".

  Miller Argent is not aware of any other relevant authoritative evidence on particulate matter and its effect on human health specific to opencast. We are aware of a range of interesting but not directly relevant articles/papers on air quality generally. We await with interest to see the actual papers that PACT rely upon and have agreed to provide to the Welsh Affairs Committee, as confirmed in their answer to Question 201.

  However, the Department of the Environment Minerals Division commissioned Arup Environmental, Ove Arup & Partners, to investigate and assess the potential for surface mineral working to give rise to dust impacts and to identify appropriate measures for the control of such dust.

  The primary aim of this study was to provide guidance to the Department of the Environment (DoE), local authorities and the mineral industry on how best to minimise dust generation and the adverse effects of dust whilst having regard to the need to maintain minerals production in an economic and viable way.

  The report is earlier than the Newcastle Study and is a HMSO publication and was issued in two volumes, it is entitled "The Environmental Effects Of Dust from Surface Mineral Workings"". This report concentrates on nuisance dust and does not address the health impact.

BUFFER ZONES

  With reference to PACT's comments on stand off distances between sites and residential properties, they suggest three miles from communities as being a distance which would not interfere with ...

  Since 1974 there has only been one opencast coal site in Wales (Derlwyn—Glynneath) where the distance between the site boundary and residential properties exceeded 500 metres. In effect if a 500 metre buffer zone was introduced in Wales it would close the Welsh Opencast Industry down overnight.

GRID REFERENCES

  PACT state that grid references are never quoted in odd numbers. In making this statement they are clearly referring to a specific quote in Celtic Energy's Environmental papers for Margam Parc Slip—I am not familiar with this document and therefore cannot comment on the specific, but I can say that in general terms it is quite normal to quote grid references in odd numbers—it all depends of the base reference that relates to the coordinates and what degree of accuracy is required, ie working to the nearest 100 metres, 10 metres or 1 metre?

HEALTH IMPACT ASSESSMENTS

  Health Impact Assessments are not yet a legal requirement.

  PACT refers to the Health Impact Assessments carried out by Cardiff University (Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Ethics) for the Margam Opencast Mine and claims that it "is always tried to be discredited". I would just make the point that this study was developed under the guidance of the steering group, the majority of whose members were local residents, some of whom have been identified as objectors to the scheme and it is therefore not surprising that the report's conclusions reflect their views. It is also our understanding that the developer of the site (Celtic Energy) was not invited to participate in the study.

  Miller Argent was aware of this report when it was first published and commissioned independent experts in this field to comment on the report. In the feedback Miller Argent received, a very eminent Professor, qualified and experienced in Public Health, stated:

    "In summary, this is, in my view, one of the most biased documents that I have ever read and which does a disservice to the serious purpose normally attached to a HIA. It is not in any way a useful contribution to judging the positive and negative aspects of the proposed development".

  Additionally, Miller Argent also commissioned independent expert advice to review the document entitled "Health Impact Assessment in Wales—Its Impact On Skills, Knowledge & Action", as produced by the Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Ethics in October 2004.

  The document left the reviewers with two overwhelming impressions: (a) The connection of this work with Health Impact Assessment is extremely tenuous, and (b) the other great weakness of this document is that there appears to have been no attempt to use a scientific method in generating and analysing the results.

  I quote some of the reviewer's comments as follows:

    "The sole focus of the report appears to be on community engagement, and specifically engagement between local communities and statutory agencies.

    I found it most surprising that there was no mention whatever of engagement with potential developers.

    Making local people feel empowered in decision-making may in itself have small benefits for public health but there are far bigger benefits to be gained from financial investment within communities, leading to increased employment and improved general well-being. These appear totally ignored in the report.

    The other great weakness of this document is that there appears to have been no attempt to use a scientific method in generating and analysing the results. It is stated that five case studies were used (but these are not identified), and people involved within those case studies were interviewed. There is no indication that the interviews were structured or that the results were analysed in a quantitative manner which would have allowed a scientifically-based appraisal of the results. Rather, comments from the interviewees have been reported without any obvious basis for their selection and one is left with the unavoidable conclusion that the grounds for selection of quotes were simply that they confirmed the prejudices of the authors of the report. Without evidence of representativeness, this conclusion is inevitable.

    Whilst community engagement in Health Impact Assessments can have significant benefits, efforts need to be made to engage with the silent majority of the community as well as the vocal members of that community. Additionally, it needs to be recognised that the more vocal members of communities often have ideas which are poorly founded in fact and there may be a role for those conducting the HIA in educating them and reducing the prejudices that they have gained from ill-informed media reports and other sources. Such ideas do not feature at all within this report despite the fact that one of the objectives was to assess the impact of HIA in Wales on knowledge.

    On the basis of the content of this report and that of the HIA which I have read emerging from the same source, I am seriously concerned that Health Impact Assessment in Wales is deviating very seriously from the true purposes of HIA and will not generate the benefits which can accrue from a comprehensive and scientific Health Impact Assessment process".

  Miller Argent has sympathy with Celtic Energy, the developer of the Margam Parc Slip project in respect of the Health Impact Assessment, as a group of objectors to the Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme is now active in engaging the same authors to produce a Health Impact Assessment in respect of Ffos-y-fran. The objectors have advertised in the local press and have hand delivered circulars to homes within the community inviting people who hold negative feelings towards the Scheme and the industry to participate. There has been no contact with Miller Argent nor has there been any attempt to engage with the community at large. Therefore is there any wonder why such an approach is held in contempt by developers and informed reviewers?

  Miller Argent places a high level of importance on engagement with the community in developing it's projects, including, public presentations and meetings, community flyers and a comprehensive web site. We also meet members of the local community on a regular basis to try and understand their concerns, and as in most mining projects, Miller Argent fully support and will operate a Site Liaison Committee engaging both the Local Council and community representatives.

CONCLUSION

  Miller Argent thanks the Welsh Affairs Committee for affording them the opportunity to participate in this very important Inquiry. We hope that the Committee will conclude from the evidence it has heard that:

    —  It is vitally important that the UK maintains a balanced energy portfolio. This has to include coal, nuclear, gas and renewables—the lights will go out if it doesn't.

    —  That coal will continue to make a significant contribution to the generation of electricity in the UK and that every support should be given to indigenous coal production.

    —  Coal should not be treated any differently from any other mineral and that Government should acknowledge that there a case for "need".

    —  That Government acts quickly and responsibly in facilitating the next generation of power generation in order to prevent the Generation Gap that is forecast. This includes streamlining the planning process—including coal projects.

    —  That Government takes an important, if not a lead, role in the global research, development and demonstration of Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) technology.

    —  That a programme of research and development of meaningful renewable energy sources is identified and progressed.

  From a Welsh perspective their interests are entirely aligned with those of the UK in respect of energy considerations and the support of indigenous coal will help with:

    —  security of supply;

    —  provision of employment for many hundreds of people;

    —  securing meaningful opportunities for future generations;

    —  the retention of a critical skill base;

    —  balance of payments; and

    —  reclamation of huge tracks of derelict and/or unsafe land.

James T Poyner

30 January 2007





 
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