Opencast decision is blow to British Coal profits

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BRITISH COAL has lost its appeal to work the Coalfield West opencast site in Leicestershire, which could have provided pounds 25m a year in profits, writes Mary Fagan. But the company will challenge the Department of the Environment's decision in the High Court.

Failure to salvage Coalfield West will shave an estimated pounds 110m from the privatisation value of British Coal, which is high on the Government's sell-off list. The site, on agricultural land, has more than 8 million tons of coal reserves and would have lasted eight years.

British Coal, which is struggling in the face of coal imports and natural gas, said the mine would have been the most profitable in Europe. It would have provided 200 jobs, although opencast mines are sub-contracted out to private mining firms.

British Coal faces increasing problems in gaining planning permission for opencast sites because of opposition from local people and environmentalists. The company says it needs the mines to help shore up its profits. It has 60 such mines in operation but as they have a short lifetime, it needs to get permission for a dozen new opencast mines every year.