10 June 2021

Legal proposals to improve safety on Welsh and English coal tips

Posted by Dave Petley

Legal proposals to improve safety on Welsh and English coal tips

Yesterday, the Law Commission in England and Wales launched a consultation on proposals to change the legal framework on the management of coal tip safety.  The proposals come in the aftermath of the recent stability problems on tips in South Wales, most notably at Tylorstown in February 2020, which have highlighted deficiencies in the current political systems and the legal framework.

The coal tip at Tylorstown in South Wales

The coal tip at Tylorstown in South Wales. Image from geograph.org.uk.


The Law Commission has identified the following key issues with the existing law, which dates from 1969 when many tips were still active and climate change was not considered to be a major issue (the text below is directly from the Law Commission):

  • The powers created by the Act are fragmented across local authorities, leading to inconsistent safety standards and risk classifications.
  • There is no mechanism to prioritise the highest risk coal tips to ensure they are managed as a matter of urgency.
  • There is no general duty to ensure the safety of coal tips and local authorities have no power to intervene until there are concerns that a tip is unstable.
  • There is no power to undertake preventive maintenance before a tip becomes a danger.

The proposed legislation would create a single body with responsibility for the supervision of all disused tips.  It would have the power to monitor tips to ensure compliance the regulatory requirements. A register of coal tips would be established, which would record information including potential risks at each site.

The new body would set up a regime of inspections of coal tips to ensure that risks are being managed appropriately.  The inspection would include tip stability, but could also cover risks associated with flooding, pollution and suchlike.  And finally, for high risk coal tips, an enhanced safety regime would be established, with the supervisory authority having involvement in the management of the tip to ensure that the risk of incidents in minimised.

I think for many it will be a surprise that such a management body and regime is not already in place.  There can be little doubt that this is an important step towards improving coal tip safety.

The consultation is open until 10 September 2021, with the final report being due next year.  I hope that legislation will follow quickly.