CHRISTMAS was being celebrated early in Merthyr Tydfil this week as jubilant anti-opencast protestors toasted a remarkable victory over the National Assembly.
The news that members of the Parents and Residents Against Opencast campaign group had been waiting for came through yesterday morning.
Champagne was uncorked at the home of Elizabeth Condron, of Glasier Road, Twynyrodyn, who had brought a High Court action over what she saw as an unlawful decision to allow the Ffos-y-Fran mining scheme to go ahead.
Mrs Condron and other protesters spent four days at the Royal Courts of Justice in London arguing against the controversial project.
The anti-opencast group argued that a planning decision committee, chaired by the Assembly's Environment Minister, Carwyn Jones, was biased from the start.
Mr Justice Lindsay, presiding over the case, ruled that Mr Jones had an "unacceptable possible pre-determination".
The judge reached his view as a result of comments alleged to have been made by Mr Jones ahead of the planning meeting.
Retired civil servant Jennie Jones, who can see Ffos-y-Fran from her home, claimed the minister had told her he was "going to go with the inspector's report".
The judge said: "A fair-minded observer, hearing the words which Jennie Jones attributes to Carwyn Jones AM on learning that the minister was to be chair of the PDC dealing with the application the next day, would, in my view, conclude that there was a real possibility that that member of the planning decision committee was biased."
The Assembly has the right to appeal and will also have to reconsider the conditions of the application.
Developers Miller Argent (South Wales) Ltd may also have to reapply for planning permission if further action fails.
Mrs Condron said the Assembly was foolish for dismissing the "little people".
"I decided to challenge the decision to grant permission for the opencast mining development because of health issues relating to the local residents, especially the children of Merthyr Tydfil," she said.
"The health of these people would be adversely affected by the dust, noise and fumes that the opencast development would have created. They would have blighted our lives from 7am to 11pm.
"I am delighted that Mr Justice Lindsay saw the merits in our case and has given us the justice we have been denied by finding the decision unlawful.
"We had a fantastic legal team who are prepared to help any campaigns against future opencast applications.
"We cannot allow big companies to run roughshod over local communities."
The main objection from protesters was the lack of a buffer zone between the site and homes - even though a 500m barrier had been recommended in previous cases.
Terry Evans, of Mount View, Mountain Hare, lives just 37 metres from Ffos-y-Fran.
"I am over the moon," he said. "I am glad for once that we've had a judgement that is in favour of the people.
"The whole process has been very long and difficult, but I would have had to live with opencast for the rest of my life if we'd done nothing."
Mrs Condron and fellow members of Parents and Residents Against Opencast praised their legal team, including solicitor Paul Stookes, and South East Wales AM Jocelyn Davies, who have supported them tirelessly throughout their fight.
Members said in a statement: "This result is a clear demonstration that we still live in a democratic society and ordinary people can make their voices heard.
"The enormity of what we have achieved here cannot be overstated.
"We did this for our children to give them the future they deserve."
l The Express contacted Miller Argent (South Wales) Ltd and Merthyr and Rhymney AM Huw Lewis but they were unavailable for comment as we went to press.