UK Coal to close Britain's oldest mine

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The Independent Online

UK Coal will shut the UK's oldest pit with the loss of hundreds of jobs after deeming millions of tonnes of untapped coal to be unreachable.

The closure of the Prince of Wales colliery in Pontefract stunned the West Yorkshire town, though it had been widely expected since November.

Despite its long history – the colliery opened in 1860 – the biggest source of frustration to the 570 men who still work at the colliery is its untouched reserves.

A total of £18m was spent over the past two years, mining 5km of tunnels to gain access to more than 8 million tonnes of reserves in the Warren House and Barnsley coal seams. But geological problems have made access impossible, decreeing the end for a colliery which was recently highly profitable and producing 1.6 million tonnes of coal a year from two faces.

A total £120m in aid has been pumped into uneconomic pits over the past year – under a European Union-approved scheme to cover operating losses until the industry's prospects improve – but, critically, the Energy minister Brian Wilson has indicated that the scheme, which runs out in July, will not be rolled over.

"It is not the business of the Government to prop this industry up for a few months in an opportunistic way in order to win a few favourable headlines," he said recently.

UK Coal, which operates 10 of Britain's 17 remaining deep mines, has received about £75m of the subsidies provided by the Government in the past 12 months but had issued a veiled profits warning hinting at further deep mine closures two months ago.

UK Coal's chief executive Gordon McPhie said an in-depth review had shown that the pit would make "substantial losses" of at least £36m over two years because of difficult mining conditions.

Mining operations at Pontefract will now be phased out over the next eight months.

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