The co-operative planning to open the first mine in the county in a quarter of a century are one step nearer making the dream a reality. Sarah Freeman reports.
When plans for the Crofton Colliery was first mooted it was billed as the first mine to open in Yorkshire for more than 25 years. When work begins on the site this September, it could be the county’s only coal mine.
Last year, the owners of Kellingley Colliery secured £20m from the Government to carry out a managed closure at the pit which at its height employed 2,500. By the end of last year there were 700 working the coal face, all wondering what the future might hold. So too are those at Hatfield Colliery. The pit was taken over by a group of employees in 2013, but in the face of low prices and production difficulties the future is similarly uncertain.
Crofton then remains a beacon of hope in an industry which has been beset by difficulties even before the bitter strike of the early 1980s. Set up by a co-operative, the idea behind the project has not just been to revive an industry many thought had been consigned to history, but also transform an ordinary suburb of Wakefield by rejecting the usual philosophy on which big business is run.
It was always intended that a chunk of the mine’s profits would be invested into a charitable trust to improve the local area and today the co-operative will launch the community share issue which will bring the mine one step closer to reality.
“We had hoped to break ground this spring, but the logistics of getting the finance in place have taken a little longer than we thought,” says Jonathan Clarke, one of the co-operative’s founding members. “However, we are 95 per cent there and the plan now is to be on site by September and launching the Coalfield Community Investment Society is a key part of the bigger picture.
“We hope that Hatfield can come out the other side, but Kellingley will certainly close and once a mine closes it’s almost impossible to reopen. After just a few years the shafts close and it’s simply uneconomical. We hope that Hatfield can find a future, but there is a very real chance that Crofton could be the only mine in Yorkshire.”
Despite no advertisements being posted, the co-operative has already received in excess of 200 applications from former and current miners for the 50 or so posts which will be available and they have also secured a buyer for the 600,000 tonnes of coal which will be extracted in the first three years.
“People think that coal is a dirty fuel, but it’s not a black and white issue,” says Jonathan. “It is vital to bridge the gap between now and that point in the future where we can rely on renewables. That won’t be until at least 2030, so surely it’s better to use our own resources than importing coal from places like Siberia, Colombia and America. It also makes financial sense. Currently coal is selling for £45 a tonne, but we are confident we can produce it for £30.”
The cost of opening the mine will be around £11.5m, but over its 22 year life span it is expected to produce five millions tonnes of coal worth £300m. The Crofton project is in part modelled on the Mondragon Corporation based in Spain’s Basque region. Started in the 1950s by a priest and five graduates of a technical college initially to produce paraffin heaters, today it is the country’s seventh biggest company, employing more than 80,000 people across 289 different co-operatives.
“We’ve already done a lot of work with the community because we always knew this project was much more than just about coal,” says Jonathan. “It’s about people and it’s about using business to make a difference.”
Toby White, one of CCIS’s directors will be holding a drop-in session at Crofton parish centre today from 3-9pm on the community share issue. For more details visit www.ccis.uk.com