Little private interest in mines: Offer to continue mining received for only one of four pits

PRIVATE companies have come forward to mine only one of the first four collieries to be offered by British Coal for lease and licence. The lack of interest has fuelled speculation that few of the 19 mines on offer will be saved.

Although final bids for three of the four mines have been received, those for Silverhill and Cotgrave in Nottinghamshire are for the surface assets only. There were no final bids for Bolsover in Derbyshire, leaving only Easington in County Durham with a chance of restarting.

British Coal must now decide if and when to irreversibly seal off the reserves at the three pits, which have been on care and maintenance while awaiting bids. The company is still processing potential bids for the other 15 mines, but said that of 300 initial expressions of interest, only 18 people had put up the pounds 10,000 bond necessary to go the second stage. Final bidders need to provide a pounds 50,000 bond.

The bids for the surface resources of Silverhill and Cotgrave are believed to have come from Vista, the joint venture which includes the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. They hope to build waste recycling and disposal plants, providing up to 900 jobs for redundant miners. RJB Mining, a private mining company with interests in both opencast and deep mines, is thought to a bidder for Easington.

All those who have expressed interest in deep mines make it clear that they would run the pits with many fewer men than employed by British Coal.

One mine of the 19 which appears to have a secure future is Betws in Wales, where the reserves are anthracite and could find a market to supply domestic and industrial coal.

The others will rely mainly on the ability of those who take them over to negotiate sales to the electricity generators, National Power and PowerGen. They could therefore pose an extra threat to British Coal's remaining mines.

Of 31 mines earmarked for closure in October last year, 21 have stopped producing coal.

Another 11 are 'market testing' but British Coal has yet to secure the extra sales needed to save the pits. The remaining core of the business is 19 mines.

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