British Coal lists 7 pits in line for final closure round: Speculation continues about reprieved mines

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The Independent Online
A LIST of up to seven mines is believed to have been drawn up by British Coal for a final round of closures as the company waits to be privatised.

The closures, some of which will be presented as mergers, are expected to be announced soon. It will leave British Coal with about 15 operating deep mines.

Industry sources say the list includes Prince of Wales at Pontefract, Yorkshire; Manton, Ollerton and Bilsthorpe in the Midlands; and Silverwood, near Rotherham. Another possibility is thought to be Ellington in Northumberland, although the colliery has recently agreed a supply contract with the aluminium producer Alcan.

There has also been speculation about two mines - Point of Ayr in Clwyd and Kiveton, Sheffield - which were earmarked for closure but reprieved after publication of a Government White Paper on the coal industry early last year.

A British Coal spokesman yesterday dismissed the existence of a closure list as speculation, but said: 'It has been widely known for some time that there has to be further paring of production. However, no decision has been made as to what action may or may not be taken.'

The expected closures are driven by an imminent fall in sales to National Power and PowerGen. Under British Coal's contract, sales to the generators drop from 40 million tonnes in the year to the end of March to 30 million tonnes annually until 1998.

Neither of the generators has been persuaded to buy extra coal despite government promises of subsidies to help achieve top-up sales. Both generators have substantial stockpiles which they wish to run down before agreeing to take more.

Further pit closures are also thought to be necessary if the Government is to privatise British Coal successfully. The Bill is due for a second reading in Parliament next week and ministers hope to be in a position to offer the company for sale in up to five parts by the end of this year.

The closure of five or six mines would mean the loss of 2,000 to 3,000 jobs. The workforce has already shrunk to 15,000 from 42,000 in October 1992, when the crisis facing British Coal became clear.

British Coal is also in advanced negotiations over the future of six mines where production has already ceased and which may be reopened under lease and licence by private operators.

Malcolm Edwards, former commercial director of British Coal, is involved in bids to operate five mines and is the preferred candidate to take over Trentham, Stoke- on-Trent and Coventry collieries.