WHY has Rhondda Cynon Taf and Neath Port Talbot councils not reopened The Old Parish Road from Rhigos, to Cwmgwrach
Last October AberdareOnline published a story about the Old Parish Road from Rhigos to Cwmgwrach, the road was closed as a temporary measure to allow opencast operations to take place with the guarantee by the contractor Celtic Energy to reinstate the road within 6 months of conclusion of work on the opencast site. This guarantee was also written within the 2 planning applications approved by Rhondda Cynon Taf and Neath Port Talbot County Borough Councils. So why hasn’t the company Celtic Energy not done what it said it would do? A question I put to the Cynon Valley MP on 17 January, as she and the Cynon Valley, MS had written the standard letter to Neath Port Talbot County Borough was it to show they were interested? But they never show any responses they get. In response to AberdareOnline questions, Beth Winter MP's response was.“I wrote to Neath Port Talbot CBC on 22nd June 2021 to convey my opposition to the proposal and to request that the original intention to restore Parish Road to its status and functioning as it was prior to Selar open cast mine was honoured and respected.”“This was a response to the consultation at that time and I have had no direct involvement in this issue since then.” The MP failed to answer a number of other questions put to her, including the group of companies G. Walters(Holdings) Limited and its strong association with the Welsh Government and RCTCBC. As Richard John Walters is a Director with Celtic Energy AberdareOnline emailed Celtic Energy, on 5 January 2022 we received no response, Mr Walters or Celtic Energy a copy of the email below. https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/01900234 REF: The Old Parish Road from Rhigos, to Cwmgwrach “As your company has received the financial benefits of the coal produced from the Selar Surface Mine Site, when do you intend to reinstate The Old Parish Road from Rhigos, to Cwmgwrach I believe it was a planning requirement as part of your companies successful planning application to close the road for coal extraction at the time and to reinstate the road on completion of the works. I am informed that despite a temporary change of ownership to a company registered within the British Virgin Islands, the majority of the site is now back in the ownership of Celtic. Is this correct? What parts of the site are not back in the ownership of Celtic? Do you know who is responsible for parts of the site Celtic have no responsibility for? I understand the restoration and aftercare of the whole site is not yet complete and as such money remains within the escrow account to ensure that restoration and aftercare of the entire site is completed. The planning permission for opencast coal working and the final restoration of the site should have been completed by 31 October 2020. Do you have adequate funding to reinstate The Old Parish Road from Rhigos to Cwmgwrach? If you intend to complete The Old Parish Road from Rhigos to Cwmgwrach do you have a completion date within your program of works?” It was the Welsh Government who published the closure notice for the Old Parish Road, AberdareOnline emailed Julie James MS as somewhere in her 42 responsibilities, she is responsible for Welsh roads the response from the Welsh Government is below. “Whilst the Welsh Government is responsible for the Strategic Road Network in Wales, local authorities have responsibility for local roads. In this instance, Parish Road passes between Neath Port Talbot Council and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council. These local authorities are also responsible for the Public Rights of Way in their area. I have made enquiries on your behalf and am advised a joint meeting between Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf was held on site recently. Those in attendance included the respective local authority Heads of Planning, officers from both Planning and Highways disciplines and the local Ward elected member. The meeting built a better mutual understanding of the issues and concerns, most notably the Highway Engineer’s concerns about the safety of the road and the ongoing liabilities. As a consequence of the meeting an appraisal report has been prepared and the Councils are currently in the process of seeking advice on the best way forward. They have advised me this process will be addressed through the appropriate channels and inevitably could take some time. They have, however, confirmed that the majority of the restoration is completed, although they are unable to sign off Parish Road until the matters in the appraisal are concluded.” From this response to a meeting, AberdareOnline emailed Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Highways the email below. “Old parish Road Cwmgwrach to Rhigos” “You would also be aware of the stopping up of highways the Old parish Road Cwmgwrach to Rhigos as a joint meeting between Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf was held on-site recently, I was informed by the Welsh Government, the meeting was held with the view to reopen the road once both highway authorities were satisfied. “Rhondda Cynon Taf Council has opened up its section of road, as the road hasn’t changed much since it was closed except for a few potholes will you be signing off the RCTC section of the Parish Road? Or will you be requesting the contractor Celtic Energy part of the Walters Group to provide a layer of macadam? You would be aware of the commitment within the original planning applications to both councils that the Parish Road would be reinstated within a set timescale when the contractor completed coal extraction.” To date, the Senior Engineer of Highways Infrastructure has not answered the simple question. AberdareOnline emailed the Chief Executive at Neath Port Talbot Council on 19 November 2021, the response below, just who the council was thinking they were replying to I do not know, AberdareOnline has never spoken to officers at Neath Port Talbot Council. “I write in response to your email referring to the reinstatement of Parish Road on the Selar Coal Opencast Site from Rhigos to Cwmgwrach. My Officers seem to recall speaking to you at length on the phone on these matters, whilst also guiding you to our Planning Web site. Nevertheless we will provide responses to all your questions as outlined within your email. Starting with your initial comment relating to the historic freehold ownership of the site, I can confirm that despite a temporary change of ownership to a company registered within the British Virgin Islands, the majority of the site is now back in the ownership of Celtic. I can also confirm that whilst restoration is not yet complete, the Local Planning Authority is satisfied with the quality of restoration and aftercare undertaken on the site to date. I am only able to comment on information which the council has available to us at the time of writing and as such will not comment on the accuracy of Mr Hilborne’s report. I can however confirm that the council hold bonds which are secured within escrow accounts. These bonds are held for the purpose of securing restoration of the associated sites at East Pit, Margam and Selar. You should note that the bond relating to Nant Helen is the responsibility of Powys County Council. I can also confirm that public money has not been spent on works to restore these sites. Turning now to the Selar site which appears to be the main focus of your email, whilst restoration of Selar is well advanced, it is not yet complete and as such has not been signed off as yet. Notwithstanding this, the progressive restoration of the site dictates that large areas have been restored and are currently in aftercare in accordance with the appropriate planning conditions. The inspection and monitoring of such works has been carried out by the council and we are satisfied with the work completed to date. As stated, the restoration and aftercare of the whole site is not yet complete and as such money remains within the escrow account to ensure that restoration and aftercare of the entire site is completed. There is less than five years left on the aftercare programme, plus the surfacing of Parish Road, these works are covered by the escrow balance of £951,568 currently. You may be aware that Celtic are in the process of securing restoration of the remainder of the site which includes reinstatement of Parish Road and such details are published on our website. The council is still in the process of assessing these details which remain undetermined. You should also note that the restoration bond as originally calculated and secured, estimated that the cost of restoring Parish Rd was in the region of £560k under the 2009/1040 planning consent. This was later found to be inadequate and we were able to set aside £1.06m within the bond for the reinstatement of Parish Road under the 2014/1108 planning consent, which was carried over to the 2016/1102 planning approval. The funding originally secured for the restoration of Selar was agreed by the Planning Authority operating at that time. As part of the most recent full planning permission to deliver an alternative restoration scheme (granted in 2016), the council worked to break the restoration process down into specific tasks, in accordance with a programme of works. Each task was costed in accordance with agreed rates which were referred to within the legal agreement and reconciled against the money available within the bond. As part of this process we were content that there was sufficient money within the bond to undertake the outstanding restoration tasks and enabled outstanding tasks associated with the restoration to be re-costed. This in turn allowed us to retain sufficient funds within the bond to enable reinstatement of the road. As each task is completed the Local Planning Authority is contacted and an officer inspects the works to establish if it satisfies the requirements of that part of the restoration scheme. If the officer is satisfied, the sum associated with that restoration task is released back to Celtic. The Coal Authority have been a critical friend throughout this process on a number of sites within Neath Port Talbot to ensure that the restoration tasks and associated costs are indeed reasonable. Turning to the current position on site, I can confirm that the alignment of Parish Road is in place, the base and formation is in place and we have the funds available to complete Parish Road. However It is not possible to complete such works until a final scheme is approved. You will note as specified above that a scheme has been submitted by Celtic but this is still under consideration. Turning to your question regarding Audit Wales, they engage with the council through our Finance Department and at such times we provide requested details and forecasts of expenditure over short, medium and long terms. During these consultations we would provide copies of bonds and legal agreements as requested on individual sites. You will however need to contact Audit Wales to establish what, if any details they retain on their records.”Rhigos villagers 'furious' over road closed since 1997Why is Welsh Labour Obstructing the Reinstatement of the Rhigos Old Parish Road?