Toxic Sites

1. Questions to the First Minister – in the Senedd at on 20 February 2024.

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Photo of Peredur Owen Griffiths Peredur Owen Griffiths Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

3. How is the Welsh Government working with local authorities to ensure the safety of toxic sites in the south-east? OQ60715

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:57, 20 February 2024

The legislation that deals with safety at such sites in Wales is set by the Senedd. The Welsh Government provides statutory guidance to assist local authorities in the discharge of their responsibilities. Further assistance is available through Public Health Wales and Natural Resources Wales.

Photo of Peredur Owen Griffiths Peredur Owen Griffiths Plaid Cymru

As with the map of category C and D coal tips in Wales, people also have the right to know the location of historic toxic sites. Unfortunately, there are many toxic sites throughout our country as a result of our industrial heritage and multinational corporations using us as a dumping ground for all sorts of nasty chemicals. These corporations may have long since disappeared from our communities, but the legacy of their work lingers on with polluted watercourses. Has this Government considered publishing a map of toxic sites throughout Wales to better inform the public of the dangers that may exist in their community, and when will we also get a taskforce dedicated to pulling together all the relevant agencies pursuing polluters and dealing with the legacy they have left behind?

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 1:59, 20 February 2024

I thank the Member for that important question. He is right, of course, that the landscape of Wales is scattered with examples of the legacy of events that happened many, many years ago. The current system is that it is a responsibility of a local authority. They have a primary duty in this area to identify contaminated land in their area. But the work that the Minister is doing on the disused mines Bill is being designed with the possibility of extending the scope of the arrangements we will set up in the first instance in order to be able to take account of other forms of industrial legacy in the future. I hope that when the Bill comes in front of the Senedd, the Member will see that. While it begins with, as he said, the legacy of mining in Wales, there are other legacy issues that the structure that will be established could be used to respond to in the future, and that would allow us, for example, to take into account the metal mining remediation programme that we have here in Wales, where there is international interest in the way in which we have been able to extend the scope of our remediation programme. So, there isn't going to be a swift route to the sort of register that the Member suggests, but there is a potential route that will come in front of the Senedd later this year, and I'm sure Members who represent areas where these legacy issues are very prominent will want to take a close interest in the passage of that Bill.

Photo of Laura Anne Jones Laura Anne Jones Conservative 2:00, 20 February 2024

I too share the concerns of the fellow Member for South Wales East and, for example, on the proposal to reclaim the Bedwas coal tips, which has been met with a lot of concern by constituents in my region. Although the Welsh Government has claimed the tips are not necessarily unsafe, there is a risk, of course, as you know, of run off of water that could result in an incident.

But I'd like to make the First Minister aware of the Tŷ Llwyd quarry in Ynysddu near Caerphilly, which was found to have had toxic chemicals in the water leaking from the landfill into a woodland used by children and dog walkers last year. My constituents in the area still believe that the area is still contaminated and have voiced their concerns over the health and safety risk associated with this site. The drainage system currently that is there is inadequate, and contaminated liquid is still a prevalent issue. In 2011 Monsanto agreed to help clean up the quarry, yet 13 years later, my constituents are still having to deal with that fallout. So, First Minister, how is the Welsh Government working with Natural Resources Wales to deal with this issue and clean up the quarry once and for all? Thank you.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 2:01, 20 February 2024

Well, Llywydd, I thank the Member for that important question. Just to be clear that, based on current information, the regulators do not currently consider there is a risk to public health at Tŷ Llwyd, but the local authority—who, let's remember, themselves identified this quarry as a cause of concern back in the 1990s—has commissioned Arcadis to do an options appraisal to look at better ways in future in which leachate from the site can be managed. In an era of climate change—we've talked about that this afternoon already—severe weather events, including concentrated rainfall, has rendered the challenge at that site more significant than it would have been in the past. Now, I understand that the consultants have now narrowed the scope of their work down to four options for future management of the site, that that report has now been presented to the local authority, but, together with Natural Resources Wales, there is a monitoring programme going on over this winter to look at ground and surface water, which will help to further refine those options. Now, when those options are refined, I imagine myself that it will lead to the council needing to apply for an environmental permit for the way in which the site is managed in future. I would anticipate that there will be stringent conditions attached to that permit to make sure that local residents can have confidence that there isn't leachate from that site that would cause environmental and public health damage.

Photo of Hefin David Hefin David Labour 2:03, 20 February 2024

Bedwas tip has already been mentioned, and it is a legacy of our coal mining heritage. There is a company that is interested in remediating Bedwas tip at no cost to the public purse, and when you're talking of upwards of £30 million, that's a significant offer to be considered. There has been, unfortunately, some opposition councillors spreading, through leaflets, some direct untruths about the project. I think we need to keep an open mind about what the project will entail. We need to make sure that the proper processes are followed to ensure that the public have their say. Would the First Minister therefore support that and agree that, in order for this kind of remediation project to be considered, we have to keep an open mind about how successful it can be?

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 2:04, 20 February 2024

I thank Hefin David for that, Llywydd. Laura Anne Jones mentioned the Bedwas tips, and there are three disused category D coal tips above Bedwas, and we know that, thinking of the question I was asked originally by Peredur Owen Griffiths, because the Welsh Government has put that information into the public domain. Now, my understanding is that the company proposing a different future for those tips is currently in the pre-planning application phase. I was very pleased to see that there's an exhibition at Bedwas today and Cwmfelinfach tomorrow of the proposals that they are bringing forward. They will then have to come forward with a full planning application, and at that point, if there are concerns by local residents, they will be able to be voiced and they will be able to be considered in that orderly way, rules-based way, that the planning system allows, and then the merits and the demerits, if there are any, of the proposal, can be properly investigated and reported upon.