'Viable' mine fails to find private buyer: Shadow hangs over British Coal sell-off

GRIMETHORPE, the colliery famed for its brass band, must close because British Coal has received no bids from private companies to take over the mine. Grimethorpe is one of the pits that the government advisers, J T Boyd, said was viable and could have had a long-term future.

The high-profile South Yorkshire colliery is one of five in the third phase of British Coal's attempts to lease and license mines where its own production has ceased. Two other doomed pits in the same phase for which no bids were received are Houghton Main, also in South Yorkshire and Westoe in South Shields.

Although four tenders came in for Vane Tempest in Co Durham and Trentham at Stoke-on-Trent, only one of those proposals would involve restarting underground mining.

British Coal has received 17 bids for 14 mines offered for lease and licence, but about six are interested only in the mines' surface, for operations including waste recycling. Bids for the final five of a total of 19 mines to be offered are due within two weeks.

The organisations which are interested in reviving deep mining at the pits are believed to include British mining companies R J Budge and Ryan and a team led by Malcolm Edwards, the former commercial director of British Coal. No large international coal companies have come forward to operate the pits.

The inability of British Coal to attract global coal firms casts a further shadow on government plans to sell off the company next year. While mining has already stopped at all 19 pits on offer to the private sector, it is now thought that a further 12 'reprieved' collieries will close because there are no customers for the coal. A growing threat also hangs over some of British Coal's 'safe core' of 19 mines as coal's share of the electricity generating market continues to fall due to use of gas and nuclear power.

Ann Clwyd, the Labour Party's spokeswoman on heritage, yesterday accused the Government of being 'economically illiterate and cynical' for permitting around 200 redundancies at Tower colliery in her Cynon Valley constituency in Wales, which is one of the safe core of 19 mines.

British Coal says the cuts - representing about half the workforce - are needed because of lack of demand for Tower's output and excessive stockpiling of coal.

'We now know the true measure of what is planned for the 19 pits that the Government had assured us were safe,' Mrs Clywd said.

She also alleged that British Coal had resorted to 'bully-boy' tactics including threats because only seven men volunteered to take redundancy.

'Having promised a secure future for a pit that made pounds 1m profit last year, the Government now proposes to sacrifice it at the altar of its botched electricity privatisation. The so-called 'free market' in energy supply is a rigged one that discriminates against coal production and consumption,' Ms Clwyd said.