The doubts remain for miners of Maltby

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The Independent Online
THE MEN walked from the mouth of Maltby pit, their faces masked by grime, clothes blackened with the morning's work hundreds of feet below. They gulped in the midday air before rushing away to wash off the choking dust covering them.

It was, perhaps, the best part of their working day yesterday. They joked about how many more days they will have to make the journey to their underground workplace, despite yesterday's report.

A short while ago they would never have doubted their future at one of Yorkshire's most productive pits. Maltby is about to break the 1 million tons production mark in Yorkshire.

The pit has enjoyed massive financial investment over the past 12 years, with British Coal referring to it as a 'superpit', set to become the first 2 million tons-plus colliery during the 1990s.

More than pounds 180m has been put into the pit and recently a new face opened, giving access to another 40 million tons of coal. The optimism all this generated in the local community had been plain.

British Coal began a recruitment campaign, and young men, thinking they had a relatively secure future at the pit, moved there.

Then came the shock. Maltby was to be 'mothballed', effectively put on a care and maintenance basis, with most of the 925 men wondering whether they would soon have a job.

That announcement had a deep effect on the people of the South Yorkshire town, mainly because they never envisaged the pit could be considered anything but secure. Apart from the investment, the recruitment and the number of men working there, the pit had massive reserves of coal for 20 years' production.

The men who left the colliery yesterday, however, face an uncertain future, despite the Trade and Industry Select Committee's proposals for a phased subsidy over five years and a desire to 'strip the coal rather than the assets'.

Talk of rescue packages did little to change their belief that, although their pit may be initially saved, unless there is a long-term commitment it will close sooner rather than later.

The men did not believe that the political will mentioned by Richard Caborn, chairman of the select committee, would be forthcoming. They were also sceptical of any long-term solutions, although they did accept that between 15 and 20 collieries could be saved in the short term if the committee's proposals were met in full.

Sir John Layden, leader of Rotherham Borough Council, who was born in Maltby, worked in the pit and still lives in the town, said he firmly believed that any move to save pits would be a 'decision by deferment'.

He said: 'They can always keep a pit open for a short while, but if they do not invest we will be in the same position in a year's time. It was a bloody stupid decision to make and the way it was done was wrong.

'This pit has a future and they are not going to be allowed to kill it off. They are going to have to justify it fully.'

In Maltby yesterday the banks had notices offering miners advice on redundancy, and at the comprehensive school the headmaster, David Musson, was grappling with the problem of motivating pupils unsure of their futures.

He said: 'We are obviously part of what happens to the pit. There are two important centres in the town: one is the pit and the other the school. They are both vital to life here.'

Ted Millward, 50, has worked at the pit since he was 15. His father worked there and his brother died in the colliery. He said: 'We all know there is every reason for Maltby pit to stay open. But it is obvious we now have a vast problem. We believe that even if investment comes, they will gradually strangle the expansion and production levels will fall. Then they will close us down.'

Unemployment in and around the town is running at 20.8 per cent, which means some 16,554 men are out of work.

As they left the colliery yesterday few of the men gave it a backward glance, or looked at the sign at the entrance to their 'superpit'. It says: 'Coal is the future'.

(Photograph omitted)