Kellingley Colliery miners confused by ‘economics of the madhouse’

As plans are made to shut Kellingley, one of the last deep pits in the UK, Jonathan Brown meets its workers

On a clear day you do not have to climb to the top of the giant winding towers of the mine known as “Big K” to see the billowing chimneys of Drax – Europe’s largest coal-fired power station.

Nearly all the 2.3 million tons of coal ready to be dug out of Kellingley Colliery each year is destined to be taken only a few miles away, across to the opposite bank of the lower Aire valley to be burnt there to generate electricity.

But this week it emerged that UK Coal was planning to shut Kellingley in North Yorkshire and Thoresby in Nottinghamshire two of the last three deep pits in the country with the loss of 1,300 jobs.

Should a last-minute rescue attempt fail, Drax’s coal will come from Russia or the United States. “It’s the economics of the madhouse,” says Keith Poulson, who has worked in the pit since 1988.

Like many of the 700 employees, the 54-year-old secretary of the local National Union of Miners branch is an émigré from other mines across Yorkshire, the Midlands and the North-east. These skilled men wound up at the so-called super pit hoping they had a future following the mass closures during the 1980s and 90s.

“Talking to the lads, they have been through this process a dozen times,” explained Mr Poulson. “We have people working here who live in Northumberland or Stoke-on-Trent. This is not a pit with a village, but while the worst impact will be here, the effects of its closure will ripple out and be felt across the country.”

Electrician and fellow union official Keith Hartshorne, 57, agreed. “It will cost the same to close it and fill in the shaft as it will to keep it open. The future, that’s what we are fighting for now. Without it there is no future,” he said.

As recently as January, owners UK Coal hired nine young apprentices at the site. “When they were taken on the company said there was 50 years of coal left in Kellingley. My heart goes out to those lads it really does, they were living the dream. They are the sons of miners who worked here,” Mr Poulson added.

In 1970, there were 287,000 miners in Britain employed at 300 collieries. Britain’s only remaining deep shaft colliery, Hatfield – featured in the film Brassed Off – will for now continue to employ 700 people in Ed Miliband’s neighbouring constituency of Doncaster North. It was only saved when it was sold to an employee benefit trust last year.

Negotiations have been underway this week to secure some kind of future for Kellingley and Thoresby. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has said the Government “will do everything it can”, although ministers indicated they are unable to provide direct aid under European Union rules – a claim disputed by unions and Labour.

A bail-out costing between £10m and £20m could help save 700 jobs at UK Coal’s six remaining surface pits and extend the working lives of the remaining two mines by up to 18 months. The company’s problems stem from the underground fire last year at Daw Mill in Warwickshire, that forced it to shut. But it is not the only issue facing the industry, explained Mark Spencer, Conservative MP for Sherwood in Nottinghamshire, which is home to Thoresby.

“Fracking in the United States has lowered the wholesale price of gas so that America is now dumping its coal on the world market. Because coal is traded in dollars, the strength of the pound makes it even cheaper,” he said.

In the US coal is scooped out of the ground in bulldozers, making it vastly cheaper than UK deep mines which can stretch for up to 10km (six miles) underground.

None of this bodes well for the future of British miners, despite rising hopes over the future of carbon capture technology which is being trialled at the White Rose project on land adjacent to Drax. If applicable on an industrial scale, it could yet transform the market for domestic coal.

“We need to have one eye on global energy security. I don’t want to be standing here in 20 years’ time complaining about too many Polish workers coming in because we have lost the skills to lift it,” Mr Spencer said.

Meanwhile, back in Knottingley, the neighbouring town to the Big K, concern among local business owners at the impact of the closure was rising.

Every week the colliery sends out for fish and chips from Tony Swain’s The Dishy Fish – a chippy on the Hill Top parade where a number of the shops are already shuttered. “We thought it would stay open for ever. The last thing we want now is for it to close,” said Mr Swain.

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week