English Partnerships, the state-owned land regeneration body, is being paid pounds 12.5m by British Coal to take the sites off its hands in the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North-east and North-west. Some will be easy to restore, but the package includes heavily contaminated eyesores which require many millions of pounds spent before anyone can be persuaded to site homes or businesses there.
The nine square miles that the coalfields cover will be de-toxified, landscaped, greened and provided with infrastructure such as approach roads over the next 10 years - at a cost to the taxpayers of nearly pounds 400m.
But that investment should attract pounds 850m of private-sector money, as the restored land is gradually purchased by developers for 6,000 new homes, shops, workplaces, fields and forests. About half of the total area will be used for tree planting, public open space or agriculture.
State-owned British Coal's few remaining pits were privatised two years ago but the corporation still has large land holdings which it is gradually selling off.
English Partnerships said the deal announced yesterday covered ``the biggest and most difficult of the former coalfield sites.'' Its chief executive, Anthony Dunnett, promised the agency would consult local communities, many of them hard hit by pit closures, about what sort of development they wanted.
He put forward the example of the former pit village of Grimethorpe, near Barnsley, where about one in three men aged between 20 and 60 no longer work. He announced the first, pounds 1m phase of the agency's investment in the area which will reclaim 11 acres of contaminated land at the closed colliery.
English Partnerships is also contributing towards a closed-circuit television security system covering the village, its shops, homes and playing fields in an attempt to tackle the village's high crime rate.
``This package is very welcome but long overdue,'' said Sandy Dodds of the Coalfield Communities Campaign, which represents 86 local councils in coalfield areas.
t In another major property deal, the Ministry of Defence handed over management of the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, south-east London, to English Partnerships.
The 32-acre site on the Thames contains several listed buildings and its use for storing and testing munitions and artillery dates back to 1668. The site will be redeveloped for homes and workplaces, and it is hoped this will help reverse the decline of the local town centre.
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