The Pit Closures: Offer is made for doomed colliery

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The Independent Online
Malcolm Edwards, the former commercial director of British Coal, has applied for a licence and lease to start mining almost immediately at Markham Main colliery, one of 10 pits due to be closed in the new year. It is believed to be the first formal attempt to take over one of the doomed pits.

Mr Edwards said he could be in business at Markham Main by Christmas as long as British Coal did not drag its feet. 'I cannot wait to get my hands on that pit,' he said.

In a letter to Neil Clarke, the coal board's chairman, Mr Edwards said: 'I believe my proposal is entirely in line with the corporation's present duties under Section 1 of the Coal Nationalisation Act: to secure the efficient development of the British coal mining industry, to make supplies of coal available best calculated to further public interest and advance the skills of employees of the industry.'

Mr Edwards said that he would be competing with coal imports, not coal from other UK deep mines. He said that the mine was especially attractive for domestic and commercial use. In his role as a private consultant since he left British Coal earlier this year he has already been asked by buyers of Markham Main coal to find alternative supplies from overseas.

Mr Edwards told Mr Clarke: 'I can say with conviction that the quality and sizing of Markham Main coal are much superior to the alternatives and that its previous customers would greatly welcome the restoration of the mine to production. I would greatly welcome the opportunity to market such high quality coal.'

Mr Edwards would employ some of the existing miners under management expertise brought in from Australian private deep coal mines. He is confident that he can raise between pounds 2m and pounds 3m which he requires and would also ask employees to make some financial contribution. Markham Main has 734 employees. This is only one of four mines which Mr Edwards is interested in. The others, Frickley, Rossington and Bentley are less urgent as they are among 21 granted a reprieve pending the Government's energy review.

British Coal said that it had received expressions of interest in some mines and that negotiations would take place if and when appropriate. Another contender for Markham Main is R J Budge, the UK's second largest coal company, which is also interested in the 21 reprieved mines.