February 10, 2018 - With 2015 marking the closure of the UK’s last deep-cast coal mine in Kellingley one could be forgiven for thinking that a mining industry which once employed over 1 million people had been brought to an end.
This was so, until local engineer, Mark Kirkbride and his partner Helen Davies announced their plans to open a mine near the site of the Haig Pit on the cliffs of Whitehaven, a small town nestling on the West Cumbrian coast.
The project is expected to cost somewhere in the region of £200 million and should it go ahead the opening will represent the first deep-cast coal mine to be opened since that of Leicestershire’s Asfordby mine in 1986.
The mine is expected to produce its first coal by the end of 2019, over 100 years since the original Haig pit first opened.
Kirkbride has spoken about the employment opportunities that the mine will create – “We expect to create 500 direct jobs and we want 80% of those to be people living within 20 miles. In terms of indirect jobs, in the supply chain, catering and so on, in total it will be 1,000-2,000 roles in the area”.
He added, “There will be 15 apprenticeships when the mine is up and running”.
Interest in the roles is said to be high, with Helen Davies commenting that some 1,600 individuals have registered an interest in roles which will pay up to £60,000 per year. She was proud to say that these registrations include over 80 with experience underground, who are keen to teach a new generation.
Many may hear this news and wonder how an industry which has seen only decline since the mid 1980’s can be revived. Kilbride spoke to this, explaining that it is a misconception that mining in this country is over. He went on record to state that “Britain has plenty of coal” and that “it’s one of the UK’s richest assets”. He explained that the coal previously mined was low-quality and used in thermal power stations, which themselves are being phased out. In Whitehaven they will produce high-grade coking coal, which is used by the steel industry.
Coking coal, also referred to as metallurgical coal was the best performing commodity of 2016 and though it represents a huge import for Europe, there is no source of it. Thus, the idea is that the coal produced will be shipped to Europe, more quickly and cheaply than the 40m tonnes currently imported from North America and Australia.
Though the plans have been produced, it is yet to be seen whether they will ever become reality, especially given the estimation that £165 million will be needed to make the mine operational. However, at the time of writing West Cumbria Mining have taken positive strides towards obtaining the necessary consents and as of May 2017 their planning application has been submitted.
It is expected that a decision will be made in early 2018. Should the outcome of this determination prove positive the company will be one step closer in the development of a mine, which they believe can produce more than two million tonnes of hard coking coal a year.
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