PLANNING inspectors are expected to follow planning guidance that says there should be a buffer zone around opencast workings, the first minister said in the Assembly.

Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones spoke after Labour Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle expressed concern from residents and campaigners at news that Glamorgan Power may submit a new application to mine in Varteg Hill.

Mr Jones didn’t comment on the possible application but said he did understand fresh applications can “lead to a period of uncertainty”.

He said: “With regard to the MTAN and mineral planning policy in Wales, we expect the guidance contained within both those documents to be followed by inspectors.”

The Minerals Techincal Advice Note guidance note stipulates that there should be a 500 metre buffer zone between opencast mines and people’s homes.

Under the previous Varteg Hill application, that was rejected on appeal by planning minister Carl Sargeant, there were homes within that distance around the proposed mine.

Ms Neagle asked at first minister’s questions in the Senedd what more he could do to ensure that planning inspectors abide by the MTAN.

She said the community at the Varteg now face “another period of uncertainty.”

“One of the most worrying aspects of the previous application was that the planning inspector seemed to pay scant regard to MTAN2 and that it was only thanks to the good sense of the minister Carl Sargeant that the application was overturned,” she said.

Previously campaigners have called for the MTAN to be made law – rather than just remain guidance.

Later during the plenary session Mr Jones said that the difficulty with introducing a buffer zone in law is “why don’t you do it with everything else.”

He added: “It opens up the debate between what is the balance between policy and actual law.”