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We have objected strongly to an application to develop common land at East Pit, Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen in Neath Port Talbot.
Last month the county borough council approved plans from The Lakes at Rhosaman Ltd to extend the existing opencast site closer to communities. The planning permission will allow coaling to take place until 30 September 2018 and restoration work, which involves turning the void caused by the opencast work into a massive lake, will continue until 31 March 2020. The proposed development also includes an outline application to erect a 120-bedroom hotel, holiday lodges, dive centre, shops, roads and other associated works. Much of this is on registered common land.
The society is among the many objectors to the scheme. Although planning consent has been granted, the applicants cannot go ahead until they have consent from Welsh Ministers for the deregistration and exchange of the common land to be taken, under section 16 of the Commons Act 2006.
The applicants and the council seem not to appreciate that they face a major hurdle because they are proposing to develop common land. Commons are an important and historic land-type which has its own laws. The developers must find land of equal quality to exchange for the many acres to be taken. The public has the right to walk over the whole common and the exchange land must be made accessible to the public.
While we deplore the council’s decision to grant consent for this development, we are also concerned that the planning authority did not spell out in its decision letter the requirement to obtain common-land consent.
We and others have asked the Welsh Government to call in the application and, in any case, to ensure that no work is commenced on site which affects the common until and unless consent is obtained.
We note that at a recent meeting which Carl Sargeant, the Minister for Natural Resources, held with stakeholders, those present expressed concern that the problems faced by communities in Wales can be traced back to the flawed privatisation process of the 1990s. The minister has passed these concerns to Andrea Leadsom, the Energy Minister in the Westminster Government.
We shall continue to press for the proposals for East Pit to be dealt with properly and for our historic common land to be treasured not trashed.