Report finds only one of 10 vulnerable pits viable

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The Independent Online
ONLY one of the 10 most vulnerable collieries under threat of closure is commercially viable, according to a report commissioned by the Government.

John T Boyd, a United States mining consultancy, has found that only Grimethorpe colliery, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire, fails to meet British Coal's criteria for closure.

The coal board last night argued privately that Grimethorpe's future had effectively been killed off by Boyd's acknowledgement that the market dictated viability. Stocks of coal nationally already amount to around 40 million tons and the power generators have not yet signed a contract for the coming financial year.

The report, published yesterday, says that Grimethorpe, which employs nearly 1,000 miners, could have a future if it is detached from Houghton Main, its twin pit. Despite a pounds 1.66m operating surplus in the first six months of the financial year, performance would have to be improved by 20 per cent over the next three years, it says.

The consultants found that Taff Merthyr, in Glamorgan, which employs 400 and incurred an operating loss of pounds 40,000 in the first six months, could only be viable in the 'very short term'.

Markham Main, in South Yorkshire, is thought to be viable only if labour relations improve and safety legislation is changed to allow US mining methods.

Despite unions' allegations, the report says management has honoured its pledge to maintain the fabric of the collieries until a final decision was taken.

John T Boyd was appointed by the Department of Trade and Industry on the advice of Lord Justice Glidewell, who suggested it would provide an 'independent' element in a review of the pits.

Both the National Union of Mineworkers and Nacods, the pit deputies' union, contend that Boyd's close identification with the Government meant that its conclusions were not based on an independent review. The firm is also conducting an inquiry into 21 other pits which management is seeking to close.

British Coal said the report substantially vindicated their assertion that the pits were not viable. Full consideration would be given to Grimethorpe, although the Boyd analysis was 'contrary to the indications from recent performance and likely prospects'.

MPs opposed to the pit closure programme dismissed the Boyd report as mistaken, out of date and lacking independence.

Downing Street, meanwhile, admitted there would be yet more delay in publication by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, of the Government's long-awaited White Paper, which will concentrate on the fate of the other 21 mines on the closure list.

The following collieries were found to be 'loss-making and not viable in the foreseeable future' under British Coal's definition:

Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire: lost pounds 3.374m in the first six months of the year. Boyd says that management and the men, mostly members of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, should be 'commended' for their efforts.

Houghton Main, Yorkshire: lost pounds 1.778m in first six months. It has limited reserves which do not justify further investment aimed at reducing production costs.

Silverhill, Nottinghamshire: lost pounds 2.63m in first six months. Another UDM pit, where miners are commended by Boyds. It has set world records for mining, but cannot achieve major cost reductions necessary to be viable.

Trentham, Staffordshire: lost pounds 20.831m in first six months. Large reserves, good conditions and substantial investment, but relationship between management and miners was a 'primary constraint'.

Vane Tempest, Co Durham: lost pounds 1.655m in first six months. Limited reserves nearing depletion. Difficult to resume mining since more than half the workers have taken redundancy.

Parkside, near Warrington, Lancashire: lost pounds 3.027m in first six months. It has eight million tons of reserves, but is unlikely to achieve major cost reductions.

Betws, near Ammanford, South Wales: lost pounds 88,000 in first six months. The remaining seam is now scattered and contains limited reserves.

(Photograph omitted)