Miners' unions to meet Battle in effort to save Asfordby pit

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Unions representing more than 500 employees at the threatened Asfordby "superpit" are to meet next week with John Battle, the industry minister, in a bid to halt its closure.

The delegation, led by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), will suggest several schemes to save the pit, owned by RJB Mining, which was shut down last month after just two years of production. The meeting was due to take place earlier this week but was postponed until next Tuesday following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

UDM will urge ministers to take over the pit using the Coal Authority, the licensing body left after the privatisation of British Coal. One proposal was to mothball the site, which cost taxpayers pounds 320m to develop, as a future energy resource.

UDM's preferred option would be to implement an abandoned RJB plan to build 17 new small coal faces. The company blamed "severe" geological problems with a 240-metre-long face for the closure decision, though it admitted two 60-metre faces were making a small profit.

UDM would then seek funding in 18 months' time to build a 3,500-metre roadway under the Vale of Belvoir, bypassing the geological difficulties, at a cost of up to pounds 150m.

Neil Greatrex, the union's president, said: "RJB may say they don't need the coal now, but in 20 years' time the situation will be different. Time is running out and that's why it's important to get help from the Government."

The Department of Trade and Industry confirmed the meeting, though Mr Battle has already indicated the pit's future is the responsibility of RJB. "The unions have asked to see him and he's agreed to their request," said a DTI spokesman.

Yesterday RJB began interviewing 300 of Asfordby's miners for alternative jobs at three of its pits, Daw Mill in Warwickshire, and Harworth and Maltby near Doncaster. At least half of the 520 staff now look set to leave the company.

"How many of the 300 that expressed an interest in moving to other pits make a formal application will become clear in the next few weeks," an RJB spokesman said.

Mr Greatrex said workers at Asfordby had never considered a direct buyout of the mine, though they were examining possible joint ventures. The pit will be maintained by RJB until late October, after which the two deep shafts will be filled in and the huge concrete winding towers demolished.

The DTI has approved three gas-fired power station projects since the election, despite RJB's calls for a moratorium on gas generation.