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THE director of a co-operative set to launch what is believed to be the UK’s first new underground coal mine in more than two decades says he hopes the scheme will trailblaze a new era of mining in Yorkshire.

Workers’ co-operative New Crofton Co-op Colliery Ltd is seeking to create up to 50 jobs and mine a total of 4.9 million tonnes coal by 2036 at a new drift mine on a site off Santingley Lane, between Crofton and Wintersett, near Wakefield.

Members of Wakefield Council’s Planning and Highways Committee have passed the plans for the Crofton mine, which must now win Government approval.

Director Jonathan Clarke said once the Crofton site is producing coal – planned for next December – the co-operative will be seeking to start mines at three other sites in West Yorkshire.

The co-operative is negotiating a contract with electricity supply company EDF Energy, which uses coal fired power stations at Cottam in Nottinghamshire and West Burton in Lincolnshire.

Mr Clarke, who is one of ten members of the co-operative, said the drift mine in Wakefield will be the country’s first new underground mine for at least 25 years.

He added: “We are hoping to be at the vanguard of a new wave of small mines in the UK.

“We are hoping that what we are doing is trailblazing because we are going to prove it works and other people will follow on and copy us.

“Coal is going to form a part of the energy mix for 20 years or longer. The price of coal at the moment is £45 a tonne. All the forecasts say the price will start rising.

“There’s a lot of small deposits of coal close to the surface at Crofton which we can drift mine. The coal is relatively shallow.

“The site was earmarked in the 1970s by British Coal executives to be an opencast mine.

“They didn’t pursue the project. We are not taking any risks, we know there is coal there already.

“We would look to move on to another two or three mines in West Yorkshire using the same model.”

The co-operative has pledged to contribute £10m to the community around the mine and return the site to its former state when the project.