Last week, at 9:15am on 21 October 2021 people across Wales paused in silence to remember those who were taken from us in the Aberfan disaster.
It is hard to believe that 55 years have passed since the terrible tragedy. 116 children and 28 adults died on 21 October 1966.
Despite the horrors endured, the community did not succumb to the darkness. It is with feelings of the utmost reverence and compassion that we remember.
People across the political spectrum have being paying tribute, and we are united in the wish to ensure that such a disaster does not befall Wales again. I welcome the fact that the Welsh Government plan on introducing legislation to deal with the legacy of centuries of mining and ensure coal tip safety.
It is most appropriate that the Welsh Government introduce such legislation because, as the Law Commission’s Regulating Coal Tip Safety in Wales consultation paper states: “In our provisional view coal tip safety falls within devolved competence." Whilst I welcome the fact that inspections on higher-risk tips have commenced, it remains the case that there are residents and communities across Wales living in fear because more disused coal-tips have been classified as being at higher risk.
The number is up from 295 to 327. It is estimated that an extra £500m - £600m is needed over the next 10 to 15 years to remediate coal tips. Unfortunately, despite this being a devolved matter, the Welsh Government has been insisting for months that the UK Government contribute. There is no reason why the cost of a devolved responsibility cannot be met by the Welsh Government. For example, for 2021-22, the overall spending review settlement provides around £123 per person for every £100 of equivalent funding in England.
In fact, the Welsh Government will receive around £1 billion more in 2021-22 than what was agreed as fair funding for Wales relative to England. Whilst I am disappointed to continue to have to reiterate in the Welsh Parliament that coal tip safety is a Welsh Government responsibility, I am pleased that the UK Government is willing to cooperate to ensure that householders and businesses know that the risk is being taken seriously.
In December 2020 the Chief Secretary to the Treasury accepted the Welsh Government’s bid for £31million to help with unforeseen impacts of Storm Dennis (which included £9million to repair vulnerable coal tips across Wales). The UK Government continues to make available the expertise of the Coal Authority to support the work to ensure that tips are safe. And, in February 2020 a taskforce chaired by the Secretary of State for Wales and First Minister, was established to discuss and co-ordinate work. It is my hope that such cooperation continues and that Wales sees progress in ensuring that our communities are safe.
Should you have any question or concern, please do contact me on 01492 871198 or Janet.Finch-Saunders@Senedd.Wales.