The changing role of the Coal Authority.
Clean Rivers Trust has worked with the Coal Authority since the Authority was created in 1994 when it was set in place to regulate the coal mining industry that was at the time denationalised. The Coal Authority further looked after the historic legacies of mining; water, subsidence, public safety, reports for developers, protection of coal resources and other planning issues regarding the coal measures, Free Mining in the Forest of Dean anomalies of legislation and enquiries regarding mining from solicitors and mortgage lenders house searches. It also was and still is the custodian of coal mine abandonment plans and other records of coal winning from 1876.
As the coal mining sector declined the Coal Authority has found its time and fiscal resources increasingly taken up by the mitigation of environmental problems including many historic legacies that were agreed with the Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency focused on minewater from abandoned mines. As the industry continued to shrink it included the issues of having to manage the water from complete coal mining regions across England, Scotland and Wales. This now involves all coal fields from Pembroke and Somerset to Kent and Fife. The pollutions were not just to rivers and other surface waters but threatened major public aquifers. Today no deep coalmining takes place bar a handful of small drift operations and the only coal mined in the UK is from a few opencast mines.
The Coal Authority is funded through several mechanism, fees from open cast companies, fees from land searches, fees from other statutory functions to do with planning and most importantly the HM Government Grant in Aid that allows it to carry out its functions. These income streams have proven vulnerable resulting in a steady reduction of the income base of the organisation 2000 to 2010: the shrinking workforce plus the Authority’s predisposition to using a group of mining engineering consultancies gave rise to a will to stop this decline before it followed the coal industry into near extinction. This resultant resurgence allowed for an increase in staff and a gradual and from what is said by staff a diminishing role for consultants. Today it is nearly self-sufficient in specialist expertise in most areas of mining and the extractive industries, water and contaminated land.
The Coal Authority has quietly transformed itself into a consultancy in most areas apart from its name. It is now marketing its expertise as ADAS (National Agricultural Advisory Service founded 1946) did as an Executive Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. ADAS was firstly partially privatised and then fully in the 1990s and has been bought up by another consultancy since. Its main area of expertise is aiding farmers to leave agriculture and maximise their land values by selling to housing and commercial property developers.
The Coal Authority is considered to be delivering its consultancy services to the Scottish Government (where there is a considerable ‘pot’ of funding available), UK local authorities and government agencies both in Europe and elsewhere in the world, DfD have (possibly) offered its expertise or services to some developing countries regarding coal and metal mining historic and current operations. (HMG gave the Coal Authority the role of managing abandoned metal mine water pollution treatments that had been the liability of the Environment Agency (inherited from the NRA after they took control of the Wheal Jane tin mine pollution in 1991) in the last ten years.)
The Coal Authority was once the Executive Agency of the Dti under the President of the Board of Trade (Michael now Lord Heseltine), it then was moved to DECC and is now under egis of BIES where it sits somewhat unhappily as it receives some important revenue from DEFRA. The view of parts of this department being to set its commercial wing adrift into the capitalist world of consultancy and turn the other non-profit making activities into a charity in the model of the transformation of British Waterways into the Canal and Rivers Trust. The Treasury sees some scope in this model as it is envisaged that a major environmental consultancy would be interested in a purchase or ‘amalgamation’ and ‘the anglers’ will help pay for remediation of greater lengths of rivers whilst the water companies would support the protection of ‘viable’ aquifers. The partnership arrangement between Severn Trent Water and the Coal Authority being considered an interesting linkage that might be exploited further in the medium term.
The Coal Authority has seen its parent government departments change name and function with regularity though it has not seen its functions change fundamentally. The development of external income generation is apparently driven from within the senior management and at Board level.
The Coal Authority Viewed in Their Own Words.
The following section is taken in large part from the Coal Authority, HMG web-site. It is a demonstration in the Agency’s words their aspirations and ongoing development as a consultancy or paid for service provider.
Such plans leave crucial aspects of their remit at odds with the money making ethos that is being developed. Issues of protection of the environment, particularly the rivers, streams and aquifers that are presently being polluted or will be, as the mines fill with water across the abandoned mining areas. The protection of aquifers from pollution intrusion across many parts of the UK are at extended risk due to the Coal Authority’s approach to monitoring water rise within systems. The Warwickshire Coalfield being a case in point with no monitoring points. The conflict of interest is easy to see.
‘Developing renewable heat and water opportunities through the expert safe and sustainable management of mining legacy.
Britain has centuries of mining that have led to both wealth creation, and
environmental damage and pollution. As we deal with the impact of mining from
early man, through the Romans to the industrial revolution and to recent times, the historical problems left behind can, through innovation, lead to solutions for modern issues of climate change, and energy and water scarcity.
Over 100 billion litres of water a year from Britain’s abandoned mines is treated to benefit the environment. But, as well as providing environmental improvement, this water has a value as a water supply, a source of energy and a source of minerals to help with modern societal problems.
Heat from the water can be used to provide renewable energy
Treated water can be used to offset potable water in industrial usage
Iron from the water, once causing rivers to run orange, can be extracted and used to prevent eutrophication of watercourses by removing phosphate
With economic, political and social drivers these innovations are becoming reality.’
Coal Authority Principal Manager, Business Development said last year:
Our experts have unrivalled experience in the identification, assessment, management and treatment of hazards from the mining of coal, metal and other minerals.
We manage over 70 mine water treatment schemes across Britain to improve the damaging effects of mine water pollution on the environment.
Our regulatory services are designed to help local authorities, governments and public bodies meet legal requirements for new and legacy mining activity.
Our experts advise on all aspects of tip management, from reclamation and restoration schemes to monitoring and providing solutions for potential pollution risks.
We provide expert advice to ensure regulators are aware of their statutory requirements to meet deep and surface mine compliance and restoration.
Our experts identify, monitor and remediate hazardous mine gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide.
We help developers to understand and investigate the risks of past mining and provide permits for works in underground coal mines, coal seams and mine entries.
Our Data Portal is available for Local Planning Authorities to access and download data for their administrative area.
We provide a range of services for the public, local authorities, developers and the mining industry in Britain.
Coal Authority Board Objective 2016/17
Undertake to challenge robustly progress on the delivery of our commercialisation objectives and ensure that we have a relentless focus on the pursuit of deliverable outcomes.
Principal Commercial Manager (Environment)
Can you horizon scan, identify and develop commercial opportunities? Can you create, develop and lead an integrated approach with business development partners, other commercial managers, technical and operational departments?
If so, this is your chance to lead a dynamic and innovative projects team delivering the next generation of commercially led projects.
At a glance
Salary: Grade 5+ £34,068 – £52,100
Location: Nottinghamshire, England
Overview of role:
To lead and maintain an effective Commercial and Innovation team within our Environment Department, capable of delivering the projects required by the business
Closing date: 3 April 2017
About the role
We’re looking for someone to join our Environment department as a Commercial Manager. This challenging and exiting role includes leading a team of project professionals to deliver a programme of innovation and commercial projects to help deliver our 5 year strategy.
One advertisement on the Coal Authority web-site.
Clean Rivers Trust Comment.
1/ The Coal Authority is working on a number of commercial heat from minewater ventures mainly in Scotland where central funding for such schemes is ‘abundant’. The Authority are expected to announce a ‘small but significant’ project either underway or completed before the end of 2017. It is somewhat concerning that a project in Northumberland that involves the County Council, Coal Authority, a technology company, land owner and development company and the Trust, is running one year behind schedule due to the inaction of the Authority and their agents looking at the heat mapping of development site (which is at present a near blank site) a strange exercise in finding heat needs of an as yet unplanned development. Once agreement is achieved by the Coal Authority that their water has a use the site can be redeveloped. The huge site will include public open space, new homes, and industrial units that will benefit from the site’s potential minewater derived heating and hot water distributed via a heat network. Such delays could scupper the use of long-term carbon negative energy as the installation would only qualify for BIES grant aid if initiated before 2020/21.
2/ The use of minewater heat as a desirable outcome for the UK does not appear to be an option, it is more viable for the Coal Authority to seek funding for research and development rather than overview the projects that are ongoing commercially in Canada, Holland and soon in Slovenia, Germany, Spain and France.
3/ The needs of the UK with regard to energy are compelling and well known but the volumes of low temperature energy are high and rising annually. They are at present being wasted with most pumped water going to waste without being harvested. The Coal Authority have one trial/demonstration site at Dawden in County Durham that heats its laboratory onsite and the adjacent staff rest room. The large energy resource that is being wasted is unsustainable and in an age of stringent cost saving the non-utilisation of such energy could be interpreted as irresponsible.
4/ The Coal Authority has pleasingly taken up the challenges first begun with Clean Rivers Trust between 1996 – 2002 finding values for the water pumped to protect the environment. Industrial water supply was explored in that period at all the RJB Mining, Midland Mining and Scottish Water minewater pumping stations, the water companies involved included Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water and Hartlepool Water.
Minewater Treatment Methodologies and Trialling.
The need for the Coal Authority to trial new minewater treatment methods calls much of the organisation into question. As with most large companies there is an ‘Innovations Team’ that evaluates concepts and ideas. It is a slow process that needs rigorous planning and co-ordination, in certain instances the concepts have changed, improved, before their forbears have been ruled on and such innovations need revaluations and consideration before retrialling might take place and are placed at the back of the line of hopeful candidates.
The trials once reported on are not often discussed or taken forward without some other executive agency taking up the technology. This is seldom the case as little interaction is encouraged by the Coal Authority between the technology company or university and other outside agencies; except in such operations as when the research is carried out in the same building as the Environment Agency: a good location for research and gaining top level backing.
The owners of sites where some trials of have taken place are also poorly treated though they are interested and supportive. Giving access to infrastructure and amenities that otherwise would need to be hired in. once a trial or in some cases a series of trials have taken place the site owner is left without knowledge of outcomes and certainly no surety of any end to their pollution issues.
The Coal Authority has carried out many imaginative and well-designed coal seam minewater remediation projects across much of the country. It has put in place one metal mine remediation project and has possession of Wheal Jane, the tin mine pollution treatment site in Cornwall put in place by the NRA and Environment Agency. When the Coal Authority and Clean Rivers Trust met in 1994 both agreed that though some minewaters might have similar constituent pollutants no minewater was ever the same: this view has be seen to be changing with the Authority recently stating in its advertising editorial pieces on minewater pollution treatment on their web-site that it’s knowledge of mine types, geology and pollution loading they know and understood the needs of each pollution without doubt. This is possible only if you plan the most basic, non-bespoke and often more expensive designs with room to further expand or place new treatment equipment when the decontamination plant fails at its first attempt. This has not been witnessed as yet.
The need of the Environment Agency to divest themselves of their role as caretaker of Wheal Jane Minewater Treatment Facility was recognised by HMG as an issue of conflict of interest which was gaining notoriety in Europe due to the Agency being unable to grant itself a discharge consent and the consent set to the operating company put in place for the purpose. Out-sourcing liability was not a functional engine to go forward with the site or to go forward with treatment of the several hundred other metal mine pollutions that need to be addressed across the UK. HMG found that the Coal Authority an ideal home for metalliferous discharges: this was not the view of many within the Coal Authority but as a government body it could not ultimately refuse the role.
The Coal Authority passed its Triannual Review with credit but since that report was published in 2014 the organisation has developed its external operations considerably. In the Coal Authority’s Corporate Plan 2015/16 the decision is outlined to take the expertise of the organisation to the market place, though being aware that there were shortfalls in areas of expertise the plan was to either train staff up or recruit new specialists into the organisation. The year 2017/18 being planned as the first year of fully active marketing of the corporate expertise. The drive appeared initially to be enabling the Authority to be self-sustaining and not totally reliant on central government funding streams: the developing group of Principal Commercial Managers to ‘horizon scan’ new potential projects takes this business projection to another (potentially unrealistic?) level.
The need for the Coal Authority is proven as the last Triennial Report noted and as do the majority of users of its services agree. The need to charge for commercial information dissemination is accepted but the development of another, commercial, wing is the beginning of the end of a mines based knowledge based specialist government agency that delivers for the public good. The need for another commercial consultancy is not provable but the value of the Coal Authority is its assets. Its staff with coal mining experience are now either moving into retirement or have or are actively looking towards working in the mining consultancies where their expertise is valued more highly outside the UK. Its vast and priceless records repository that is used commercially and by academics is a vital resource that needs to be kept within the public domain either with the Authority or as part of the National Archive. The Authority holds a land estate that in part is valuable, but much has already been sold or developed. The need for land to treat minewater at sites where no current landholding is available has led to costly purchases of property (as occurred at the scheme to decontaminate the Bridgewater Canal).
The development of fully commercial operations is a concern to Clean Rivers Trust as much of the close knit mining influence that the culture of the original organisation had in 1994 will be lost with the enquiring minds that the Authority has nurtured since 1994 and it will become a commercial entity that will in all likelihood be swallowed by one of the many major players within the consulting industry. We suggest that at best, (if progressed as we fear) this represents an unwarranted loss of a public resource at little benefit to the public purse and at worst irresponsible disposal of public assets which could fall into the wrong commercial hands.
These notes and thoughts are the result of recent broad-based informal contacts and discussions with several government ministries and departments both at Westminster and Edinburgh, MPs of various political persuasions and practitioners in the treatment of water protection. The Trust has also consulted within the residual UK mining industry.