British Coal to buy from pit it planned to shut

BRITISH COAL has been forced to buy 87,000 tons of coal from a pit it wanted to close five years ago.

The one-year contract to buy the coal has gone to Monktonhall colliery in Lothian, Scotland, run by miners who ploughed their redundancy money into operating the mine as a private operation leased from the corporation.

A spokesman at the pit - which employs 130 miners, compared with more than 2,000 in its heyday in the 1970s - said: 'Everyone here is really excited about it. I don't myself know the exact reasons why we won. Maybe we got our facts and figures right.'

The value of the contract was not disclosed by either side, but was unofficially accepted to be about pounds 2m.

British Coal has had to turn to the domestic market because a miners' strike in Poland has dried up cheap imports, leading to an increased demand for house-coal in Britain.

British Coal said that in recent days wholesalers had placed orders for nearly 40,000 tons of British house-coal to replace missing imports.

Bill Dunn, British Coal's manager for domestic sales, said: 'The recent devaluation of sterling, which has made imports 20 per cent more expensive, and the industrial action in Poland emphasises the value of assured supplies of British coal, mined by British miners and for British people.' A British Coal spokesman in London said it should be seen as no more than a 'convenient arrangement' and that it only covered about a quarter of the colliery's output. 'We have no views about the profitability of the pit,' he said.

Monktonhall was the jewel in the crown of the Scottish coalfield until it was mothballed in 1987.

Last year redundant miners each put pounds 10,000 of their pay-off money into the venture and persuaded financial institutions to join them in a successful bid to win an operating licence.

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