'Mine of future' consigned to the past as its last pit shuts

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The Independent Online

When it opened 21 years ago, the Selby coalfield in Yorkshire was seen as the future of coal mining in Britain. Yesterday, it became part of its past.

When it opened 21 years ago, the Selby coalfield in Yorkshire was seen as the future of coal mining in Britain. Yesterday, it became part of its past.

The end of the Selby era came when production at the Riccall mine, the last of its five pits, ended last night. At its peak, the Selby "superpit" employed more than 3,500 people and was considered the jewel in the crown of the industry; yesterday, after a decline which mirrored that of coal mining across the country, there were just 260. The closure comes because its owners, UKCoal, consider it no longer economic to mine at the site.

The day was marked by sadness among the last of the miners, a demonstration by Women Against Pit Closures and a warning from the National Union of Mineworkers that the industry could die out completely within 10 years. It was, said Mike O'Brien, the Energy minister, "a very sad day for Selby".

Among those completing the morning shift yesterday was Dave Marchant, 49, from nearby Barlby. He said: "It's unnecessary to close the mine as there are plenty of reserves left. I'll miss my mates, some I've known for 27 years. You spend more time with them than with your family." He hopes to retrain as a coach driver. His colleague, Alan Greenwood, of Wakefield, hopes to become a postman. He added: "It's a bit sad but we've known it was coming." The remaining workforce of about 160 will be progressively reduced over the next couple of months as work salvaging equipment and capping shafts is completed.

As their shift ended yesterday, a small delegation from Women Against Pit Closures held up banners and sang songs in protest. Bridget Bell, the secretary, said: "We shouldn't be invading other people's countries trying to get their oil when we've got tons of coal underneath our feet. There's still a case for coal, there's still a case for a non-nuclear energy policy, and there's still a case for defending our communities."

It took 20 years and £1.3bn to bring the complex into production when the first coal was mined at Wistow in June 1983; the other pits followed later. Their 10 shafts were linked to more than 400 miles of underground roadways, with, uniquely, all the coal being brought to the surface at a single processing point, Gascoigne Wood, where it was dispatched to power stations.

But Selby never quite fulfilled its promise and only once, in 1993-94, did it achieve its planned 12 million ton annual output. In total, 121 million tons were mined, a fraction of that underground. Geological disturbances forced some reserves to be abandoned, coal prices fell and production began to fall off; four of the mines were merged into two in the late 1990s to reduce costs.

Selby's innovation became its downfall - the costs of the central depot at Gascoigne Wood could not be supported by the three pits and the phased closure was announced two years ago, when just 1,900 employees remained. Production at Wistow mine ended in May and at Stillingfleet in July. About 100 workers will stay on at Gascoigne Wood until that closes by the end of the year.

The impact has been dissipated by several factors: some miners have transferred to other collieries while many have found work in skilled trades or construction in the booming economies of Leeds and York. The phased rundown allowed more than 1,500 people to receive help as part of a £35m assistance programme. The six sites are expected to become small business parks.

LAST REMAINING WORKING DEEP MINES

Daw Mill at Arley, near Coventry. Workforce: 540

Thoresby near Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire. Workforce: 500

Kellingley , Knottingly, North Yorkshire. Workforce: 700

Harworth at Bircotes, in Nottinghamshire. Workforce: 500

Ellington near Morpeth in Northumberland. Workforce: 360

Maltby near Rotherham, South Yorkshire. Workforce: 530

Rossington east of Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Workforce: 400

Welbeck near Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. Workforce: 520

Tower (not UK coal), Hirwaun, Glamorgan. Workforce: 250

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