It has been announced that the Government are going to loan UK coal £10M to allow their deep mining operations to come to an orderly close. This is a massive disappointment for the families of mine workers which will be a reminder to many of us in this region of the the events of around 30 years ago. This response is not a recscue package, it has been described as a 'kick in the teeth' by Chris Kitchen, the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers. The loan does allow a managed closure of the pits. A cynic might add that the government are acting in self interest; the delayed redundancy of 1300 miners will not affect employment rates until after the next election.
This closure of deep mines will ultimately mean that all coal in this country is extracted by surface mining. This is a step in the wrong direction. When compared to more familiar mining methods such as drift mining and deep mining, surface mining provides fewer jobs but with greater environmental damage. I hope that every assistance is given to mine workers both from government and from the employer in terms of retraining and job opportunities.
I was speaking about the situation facing UK Coal at a debate about sustainable development in Riding Mill and was asked, "but what does it mean for Tynedale?"
The company have an application pending to extract 2.5 million tonnes of coal and fireclay from land close to Whittonstall. The application was originally submitted in back in December 2010. The concern is that they will not be able to afford to meet their obligations to restore land after opencast coal mining.
One stipulation of the loan is that existing surface mining operations are sold. Hargreaves and Banks are likely to be interested but no offer has yet been made. Developers make bold claims are about the ecological value of the land after restoration, but if they are not a position to cover the costs of restoration then planning permission cannot be granted. I hope that Northumberland County Council set a determination date soon and that the planning meeting can take place in Hexham rather than Morpeth, to ensure that as many local people as possible can attend.
It's sad to say that coal is our heritage, not our future.
Note: I have been asked what the problems facing UK Coal mean for the opencast at Halton le Gate near Haltwhistle, the answer is not much as it is not operated by UK Coal but by a developer that uses subcontractors for extraction and restoration.