130 years of history and the hope of 200 miners fail to save pit

Click to follow
The Independent Online
One hundred and thirty years of mining history ended yesterday when coal production ceased at the last pit in North Wales following the workers' decision not to press ahead with an employee buy-out.

Hopes of maintaining the viability of Point of Ayr colliery and saving the jobs of 200 men were raised when unions asked for time to consider a buy-out in the wake of the decision by its owner, RJB, to close it down.

But the pit, which has lost pounds 5m since it was sold to RJB Mining following the privatisation of British Coal 19 months ago, was deemed too risky for a buy-out and now the men will either take redundancy or transfer to mines in Yorkshire.

Bill Rowell, RJB's managing director, said yesterday: "The closure of any mine is sad, but even more so when it has played such an important part in the local economy and is the last mine in a region."

Mr Rowell said the National Union of Mineworkers and the pit deputies union, Nacods, had reached the same conclusion as the company after consulting independent experts - that viable operations cannot be sustained at Point of Ayr.

The NUM lodge secretary, Bernie Haniewicz, said: "My reaction is one of great sadness, but we are big enough to stand up and say 'It's not going to work'. We worked closely with the consultants, so their recommendation did not come as a great surprise."

Point of Ayr, sited close to the resort of Rhyl, was sunk in 1868, since when it has extracted coal from under the estuary of the River Dee.

It was originally proposed for closure under British Coal's infamous closure list in 1992 but won a reprieve. Last year the mine produced 313,000 tonnes of coal and made an operating loss of pounds 2.85m. In the first seven months of this year operating losses were pounds 2.15m.

More than 60 miners from the pit have expressed an interest in transferring to RJB collieries in Yorkshire and the Midlands and will be visiting the pits over the next few weeks. Redundancy would be available on the same terms as in 1994.

Mr Rowell added that RJB was offering an attractive package to miners wishing to transfer and he would be "delighted" if most men decided to remain in the coal industry.

"They have skills and talents any business would admire. However, we also appreciate there will be employees who do not wish to move from North Wales for family reasons."

Coal production ended immediately and work will now begin to recover equipment for use at other RJB mines.

The company said it will hold talks with Flintshire County Council on future uses for the site with a view to encouraging new businesses and jobs in the area.