A four-month review of various options included an independent study conducted on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry by IMC Group Consulting. Deteriorating geological conditions and continuing financial losses are the main reasons for the closure. The three mine complex – Wistow, Stillingfleet and Riccall - made operating losses of £35 million last year and a further £14 million in the first half of 2002.
The review concluded that the most rational closure plan, and which would allow time for community regeneration measures to be introduced, should be focused on ceasing mining operations in March/April 2004 when coal faces at all three production units become exhausted. This will also enable the coal processing and despatch plant at Gascoigne Wood to be closed in the most efficient way. Annual output would be 5.2mt this year; 5.5mt next year and 1.5mt in the first quarter of 2004.
However, to achieve the mining programme, over 20 miles of tunnels to access and prepare replacement faces for production, have to be driven. That development schedule includes 23,000 metres of new roadway tunnels this year and over 10,000 metres of tunnels in 2003.
"It has been apparent for some time that our Selby mines have not been able to produce coal at an economic cost,” UK Coal chief executive Gordon McPhie said. “Measures designed to return the complex to viability, including a rationalisation programme and focusing on the lower risk reserves can reduce losses but cannot make the operations viable.
“We have decided to introduce a closure plan which will minimise financial losses, fulfil our commitments to customers, and takes account of the interests and welfare of our employees.
Meetings will be held with employees and the mining unions to discuss the phasing of the closure and redundancy. Government organisations will assist in retraining workers, job creation and the regeneration of communities affected by the closure.
Also on the table for discussion with the unions will be an offer for employees to be transferred to other collieries. UK Coal has indicated workers who took this up could be subject to new flexible working arrangements.
“Flexible working would not involve men working a longer average week, but would enable weekend work to be scheduled in a way that increases job opportunities and production,” UK Coal said in a statement.
The company’s drive to improve productivity and reduce costs continues to make good progress and is offsetting the delay to achieving full production at Daw Mill Colliery, Warwickshire. (See related article on P105, link at bottom of page).
Face equipment and conveyor systems at Daw Mill are now operating well, having overcome initial commissioning problems. However, a section of the face is experiencing some unforeseen geological conditions which are creating difficult operating conditions and delaying progress towards full production. Production on the face is currently averaging 5,000 tonnes per week.
Market conditions remain competitive and coal useage has fallen back from the high levels of 2001. Sales volumes in the first half of the year were 9.6 million tonnes (2001: 10.4Mt), producing an increase in stocks of 1Mt. Production in the underground mines in the period was 8.3Mt (2001: 7.6Mt).