Whenever it rains heavily, Cllr Robert Bevan’s phone rings and his social media feed is busy with people worried that the tip of coal looming above the village of Tylorstown in the south from Wales, does not risk slipping.
“They ask me, ‘Rob, is this going to happen again?’ The anxiety, the anguish is terrible, ”said Bevan. “Although the tip is there, even if the best engineers are working on it, you can never be sure that it is 100% sure. Tips are an albatross around our necks.
The Welsh government on Tuesday clarified its demands on the UK government as part of this fall’s spending review. Topping the list is a call for Boris Johnson’s administration to share responsibility for tips and allocate long-term funding to make them safe.
It says around 40% of all UK coal landfills are in Wales and around one in seven are classified as high risk. The Labor-controlled Welsh government maintains that the extreme weather conditions caused by the climate crisis are making many tips unstable and estimates that at least £ 500-600million will be needed over the next 10-15 years for to secure.
A landfill over Tylorstown in Rhondda Cynon Taf partially collapsed during storms in February last year, sending 60,000 tonnes of trash tumbling into the river near the village’s recreation center. He blocked part of the river valley, broke a filthy sewer, and destroyed a footpath and bicycle path. Fortunately, no one got hurt.
After lobbying through the Welsh government, local council and the ‘denunciations’ – his word – from Rhondda MP Chris Bryant, the UK government agreed to contribute £ 2.5million towards a cleanup, a fraction of the 18 million pounds estimated from the remediation project. cost.
“It sounds miserable,” said Bevan, a former mine electrician. He argued that coal mined from the valleys fed the whole of the UK. “The legacy of mining is still there. We live with this every day, ”he said.
Bevan said that the memory of the Aberfan disaster in 1966, in which 144 people, including 116 children, died when an elementary school was engulfed in a black avalanche of slurry, coal waste and tailings of a discharge, comes to mind every time the subject is brought up. up. “It’s in the back of your mind when the rains come. “
This week – 20 months after the slip – workers continue to consolidate it. Teams, some using ropes, scaled the steep point. Backhoes and dump trucks flee.
Dorothy Lewis, 80, who has run the Tylorstown village store for half a century, said as far back as she can remember people debating what to do about tips. “They were talking about taking them apart and using the material to build roads,” she said. “The problem is, it costs so much money. “
Philip Hathway, 72, a retired design engineer, stopped to gaze at the tip as he showed up for a workout at the recreation center. “I was a teenager when Aberfan arrived. There is still anxiety about it all these years later. He thinks the UK government should dip into his pockets. “The whole of the UK has benefited from coal,” he said.
After the Tylorstown landslide, the Welsh and UK governments set up the Coal Dump Safety Task Force. He identified 2,144 coal deposits in Wales, mainly in the South Wales valleys.
The safety of coal landfills in Wales is a devolved issue, but the government maintains that landfills are a legacy of the country’s industrial history, which predated decentralization.
Welsh Finance and Local Government Minister Rebecca Evans calls on Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to ‘share the responsibility’ and allocate funds to address the ‘pre-devolution legacy’ of the mining in Wales.
She said: “Climate impacts increase the risks that disused coal landfills pose to our communities. The UK government has a legal and moral responsibility to work with the Welsh government to resolve this issue. “
Kira Philpott’s house has a view of the Tylorstown peak site. “It’s a bit of a mess, isn’t it?” she said, looking through the black scar on the green hill.
She lives nearby, with another tip. “Every time it rains hard you look up there and wonder,” she said. “If that happened we would all be really in trouble here. We wouldn’t stand a chance.
A UK government spokesperson said: ‘In December 2020, to deal with the unforeseen impact of Storm Dennis, we provided £ 31million in additional funding to the Welsh Government, including £ 9million for repair vulnerable coal dumps.
“Ultimately, however, the management of coal landfills in Wales is a devolved issue and therefore not an issue for which the UK government would expect to provide additional funding.”