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Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine, South Wales, United Kingdom


Description:

Since 2003, the United Valleys Action Group (UVAG) have resisted opencast mining at Ffos-y-Fran, and proposals for further extraction at neighbouring Nant Llesg. Opposition has centered on the health impacts of coal dust, the visual impact of mining on the landscape, and the role of coal in aggravating climate change. In May 2016 Reclaim the Power activists held an 'End Coal Now' protest camp at the site in solidarity with local campaigners. In 2017, a UN's Special Rapporteur  recommended an independent inquiry into the health impacts of the mine on the local community. The End Coal Now camp at the site of the UK’s largest opencast coalmine, Ffos-y-Fran in South Wales brought together, in 2016, hundreds of people from the UK and Europe. They converged on a moorland adjacent to Ffos-y-Fran, a massive excavation spanning 1000 acres and itself situated only a few hundred meters away from the town of Merthyr Tydfil (an industrial town in the past that by 1831 had already witnessed a general strike). [1]. This is  near the site of the Aberfan disaster of 1966,when 144 people, including 116 children, died when a mountain of mining slag collapsed onto houses and the village school. Many think that the reclamation and coal mining scheme in Ffos-y-Fran is mainly about mining and less about reclamation. It started in a storm of protest in 2007. According to the company, 1000 acres of ‘acutely derelict and dangerous’ ex-industrial land will be restored to its former condition and returned, at no cost to the public purse, to common ownership. "So far so good. But there’s a catch. Before this restoration takes place, 10 million tonnes of coal will be extracted from the ground, much of it destined for the Aberthaw power station." [8].  Similar to the Ende Gelände movement in Germany, “the camp of May 2016 culminated with a mass protest action, an act of civil disobedience designed to generate maximum impact magnifying the ongoing struggle to transition away from fossil fuels. Over 300 protesters entered the mine to temporarily halt operations, indicating a turn away from activities within established legal and institutional structures to prefigurative actions that transgressed the political logic of the state, mobilizing collective power to interrupt the flow of energy”.[1] The protesters traced a Red Line on the ground. The proposed open cast mine would produce about 11 million tons of coal (for the 1500 MW coal fired power plant), and demonstrators made a point that this represents over 30 million tons of carbon dioxide. The link to climate change has been very explicit in the campaign, as in some many other actions in Europe on “leaving coal in the hole”. There is solidarity with other anti-coal movements. For instance, at  the camp, Rumana Hashem, founder of the Phulbari Solidarity Group and executive member of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Respurces, Power and Port in Bangladesh, spoke to a full tent of activists  [4], "connecting experiences in Wales with struggles elsewhere to secure environmental justice" [1].   =====================================                                         Ffos-y-Fran is in world terms a small coal mine (one million tons per year at most) but it is the biggest opencast coalmine in the UK.

A preliminary report from the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances (2017)  says there should be an independent investigation into the potential health impacts of the Ffos-y-Fran site. This follows a long campaign by nearby residents and supporting EJOs and other organizations. Even miners (who were active in the famous coal miners’ strike in the UK in 1985) have turned against open cast mining because it provides very few jobs and pollutes the communities.

 Coal dust, air pollution and noise endanger local health particularly of children and elderly people. This UN report will urge an investigation into the potential health impacts of this UK's largest opencast coalmine. The report will be delivered in September 2017 in Geneva to the Human Rights Council. “Residents living alongside Ffos-y-Fran near Merthyr Tydfil have led a long campaign, alleging that they are affected by air and noise pollution. The UN's special rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes Baskut Tuncak met campaigners in Merthyr Tydfil as part of an official visit to the UK in January 2017. He has said that the case raised "many concerns" about the UK's approach to regulation. His role is to assess and advise governments about their efforts to protect the human rights of communities at risk of pollution, such as the rights to life, health and adequate housing. In an interview with BBC Wales, he said the plight of the community surrounding Ffos-y-Fran was "top of the list" in terms of the "many pressing issues" he had encountered. The first observation that came to mind was how incredibly close this community is to a massive open pit coalmine, Mr Tuncak said.” "I heard allegations of very high rates of childhood asthma and cancer clusters within the community. But despite those allegations I didn't hear any evidence of a strong intervention by the government to investigate or any strong reaction by the companies concerned to investigate themselves." [2]. Work to reclaim 11 million tonnes of coal over the course of 17 years had started at the Ffos-y-Fran site in 2007, despite numerous court battles, a public inquiry, petitions and protests. The closest houses are less than 40m  away from the site. Residents were told that modern mining methods would mean they would not be affected by pollution, while the operation would restore 1,000 acres of land which was once riddled with old mine shafts and was used to dump spoil. In the meantime, the Welsh Government has imposed a 500m buffer-zone between any new opencast mines in Wales and the communities around them but this doesn't apply retrospectively to Ffos-y- Fran.

There have also been further direct action non violent tactics deployed in 2017, followed by heavy fines against the activists who, in a small group, stopped transport and sabotaged installations.  [3] [6]     

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine, South Wales, United Kingdom
Country:United Kingdom
State or province:South Wales
Location of conflict:Merthyr Tydfil
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Coal extraction and processing
Specific commodities:Coal

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Approximately, 11 million tonnes of coal extracted over a 20 to 30 year period from this opencast mine in Merthyr Tydfil . The scheme at peak production extracts 20,000 tonnes of coal per week. The company itself advertises the project as "the Ffos-y-fran land reclamation scheme, a major opencast coaling operation." Work at site began in 2007. The operators Miller Argent (South Wales) Limited also administer the Ffos-y-fran Community Fund, where they donate £1 for every ton of coal mined from the site for it to be administered to local projects by Merthyr Tydfil Council , which reached the £5m mark in 2015.

In 2017, the company announces an extension in Nant Llesg: "We are a mining and resources company that has been responsibly operating “The Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme” in the Merthyr Tydfil Area since 2007. Alongside mining quality coal, we are restoring land that was once derelict, unstable and unsightly, to create a much improved environment which will benefit local people, hill farming and wildlife. We have now submitted a planning proposal for a second project incorporating surface mining and land remediation to Caerphilly County Borough Council. The proposed site is called Nant Llesg, located at the Heads of the Valley between Merthyr and Rhymney." On the 5th of August 2015, local campaigners and climate change activists tought they had stopped this new coal mine, when Caerphilly Councillors refused Miller Argent’s application to mine Nant Llesg. [5]

"The Miller Group has an annual turnover in excess of 1.2 billion pounds and has net assets in excess of 250 million pounds" [7]. The investment in the so-called reclamation and coal mining operation at Ffos-y-Fran since 2007 to 2017 (with 5 million tons of coal output) must be of the order of USD one hunded million.

Level of Investment:100.000.000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:01/07/2003
Company names or state enterprises:Miller Argent from United Kingdom - Mining company
Relevant government actors:Welsh Assembly
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (former DECC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Reclaim the Power: https://reclaimthepower.org.uk/
United Valleys Action Group: https://www.facebook.com/United-Valleys-Action-Group-269469983118336/
Friends of the Earth Cymru: https://www.foe.cymru/
350.org

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
"Staging a mock funeral outside the National Assembly for Wales,staging a mock funeral outside the National Assembly for Wales, mobilizing 9000 people to submit letters of objection prior to the Nant Llesg planning decision, and undertaking legal action in the form of a Group Litigation Order (GLO) submitted against Argent Miller at the Cardiff District Registry by over 500 claimants " [1]. Occupation of the mining site, symbolic civil disobedience.

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Global warming
Potential: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Other Health impactsCoal-dust related respiratory illnesses. "Airborne toxins and particulate matter derived from coal can increase respiratory complaints, cancers, and heart and kidney diseases" [1].
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (undecided)
Development of alternatives:"From the outset, RtP (Reclaim the Power) made clear that the demand to end coal was coupled with a call for green jobs, recognizing the need for a ‘just transition’ away from fossil fuels that prioritizes social justice and protects workers in the structural shift towards a low carbon economy ". "Our demand is not only to leave fossil fuels in the ground…but also for the creation of rewarding employment opportunities for all, in an economy which respects our planet and all its inhabitants, now and in the future.’[1].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The mine is in operation and further extensions are planned. The opposition movement is strong. The company claims that the landscape is being restored. Further research into the health impacts (respiratory illnesses) are asked for by neighbours and civil society organizations. Companies do not face the liabilities that their own operations create.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[7] Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence. Memorandum submitted by Miller Argent (2007).
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmwelaf/177/177we07.htm

European Parliament. Petition 0617/2008 by Richard M Buxton (British), on behalf of Residents against Ffos-y-fran, on the detrimental impact of the opencast mining at Ffos-y-fran, Merthyr Tydfil (South Wales) on the health of the residents (and it subsequent disappointing results).
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=COMPARL&reference=PE-420.015&format=PDF&language=EN&secondRef=05

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Geoforum, 85, Oct. 2017, Resisting coal: Hydrocarbon politics and assemblages of protest in the UK and Indonesia. Benjamin Brown & Samuel J.Spiegel
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016718517302129

[8] Nick Hunt, A Failure of Vision, July 2009
http://nickhuntscrutiny.com/articles/all-published-articles/a-failure-of-vision

G. Monbiot's article in The Guardian in 2007, explaining the technicalities of the Ffos-y-Fran mine, against a "A New Coal Age".
http://www.monbiot.com/2007/10/09/the-new-coal-age/

Climate activism in a new era: why climate justice is worth the fight

[6] KELVIN MASON 2 June 2017. Fighting for climate justice is becoming increasingly difficult, as shown by the conviction of five protesters in Wales.
https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/kelvin-mason/times-they-are-changed-climate-justice-and-meaning-of-life

The Guardian, 3 May 2016, Climate protesters invade UK's largest opencast coalmine. Hundreds of activists take control of vast site and bring operations to a halt as part of a coordinated global direct action against fossil fuel companies. Steven Morris.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/03/climate-protesters-invade-uks-largest-opencast-coal-mine

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[2]Friends of the Earth Wales. UN EXPERT SUPPORTS LOCAL CAMPAIGNERS AGAINST FFOSYFRAN. Submitted by Ffion on May 9th, 2017.
https://www.foe.cymru/cy/un-expert-supports-local-campaigners-against-ffosyfran

[5] Kelvin Mason, No coal comfort (IWA think tank)
http://www.iwa.wales/click/2015/09/no-coal-comfort/

[3] “Today, we were sentenced to pay £10,000 compensation charges to Miller Argent Ltd, after pleading guilty to aggravated trespass by shutting down Ffos-y-fran coal mine for one day. By Andrea Brock, Chris Field, Rick Felgate, Kim Turner and The Canary (8th May 2017)”
http://coalaction.org.uk/2017/05/why-we-shut-down-ffos-y-fran/

[4] Phulbari Solidarity Group. In opposition to the proposed open-pit mine in Phulbari, Bangladesh. Protesters blockade and shut down UK’s largest open-cast mine in Merthyr Tydfil. Report on Powerful Campaign Against Open-Pit Coal Mine at Ffos-y-fran in South Wales

By Paul Dudman (@PaulDudman)
https://phulbarisolidaritygroup.wordpress.com/tag/ffos-y-fran/

This is what the controversial opencast coal mine Ffos-y-fran at the Merthyr Tydfil coalfield in South Wales looks like from the road. Basically it's a huge black open scar on the landscape.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqO15DqRqII

Meta information

Last update18/08/2019

Images

 

Protestors at Ffos-y-Fran, May 2016

 

Reclaim the Power