Colliers pitted against clock to save North Wales' last mine

Click to follow
Four years ago John Millard packed in his job as a miner at Point of Ayr colliery and took up cab driving. Today the North Wales pit where he toiled for 12 years faces closure. And, in an area where work is scarce - and much of it is seasonal and poorly paid - the mine's demise would be a body blow.

"I'm lucky I got out when I did at the age of 30. There's not much around here," Mr Millard said, as he waited for a fare at Roberts' Taxis, a squat little building alongside Prestatyn railway station.

Ten days ago the colliery's owners RJB Mining announced that 130 years of mining was to end. Losses of pounds 5m in the 19 months since privatisation were not sustainable; winning coal from seams that run under the Irish Sea like black fingers was getting harder.

The 200-strong workforce protested and asked for time to see if the pit could be run as a co-operative. The company offered to sell the colliery to the men for pounds 1.2m. The deadline runs out at the end of the week.

The miners have allies. The Welsh Development Agency and Flintshire County Council are drawing up a business plan and today mining engineers are due to go underground to assess the prospects. The local MP, David Hanson, has rallied to the cause. So have miners at Tower Colliery in South Wales, which is successfully run following a workers' buy-out. But time is desperately short.

Prestatyn is a town better known for holidaying than mining. At the County Club in the town centre, licensee Eaton Woodfine shakes his head: "Not many give the pit a future. The men have been put up against the wall."

A notice by the snooker table urges payment of annual subscriptions - pounds 4 for men, pounds 3 for women and pounds 1 for OAPs. Prestatyn is not a wealthy place.

"All businesses will feel the pinch because of the colliery's importance, with its decent wage packet," Yvonne Kubler, the owner of a Prestatyn guest house, predicted. Across the street Ann Leese runs a general store with her husband Mike. "Tough times are ahead. Decent wages are not that common in this part of the world," she said.

Several men transferred to the Point of Ayr when the Lancashire coal field was in its death throes. Jim Smith moved to the pit five years ago when Sutton Manor Colliery, near St Helens, was axed.

"I was made welcome from day one at the Point of Ayr. Now I'm absolutely gutted," he says. Anthony Constanzo, 20 years a miner, describes the situation as "the end of an era."

The huge miners' welfare hall at Ffynnongroyw, a mile from the colliery, stands as a testimony to the age when North Wales hummed to the tune of hundreds of pit wheels. Now it is boarded up, another casualty of the toppling of King Coal from his throne. Simon Jones who works at a chemicals factory along the coast, lives in its shadow. He is relieved about his prospects: "I stayed out of mining - I reckon I'm one of the lucky ones."

RJB Mining has offered the men a chance to transfer to the company's pits in Yorkshire, and says it will try to attract new industry to the area. About 50 Point of Ayr miners are considering the move to England.