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Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 10:05 GMT

Business: The Company File

Coal boss's plea as mine closes

Miners gather at the pit after news of the closure

The head of mining group RJB has called on the government to step in to support the UK's ailing mining industry after announcing the closure of north east England's last deep pit.

RJB Mining is to close Northumberland's Ellington pit in February, with the loss of 400 jobs, unless a buyer can be found.

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Unions and industry experts say there is little chance of anyone stepping in for the loss-making 90-year-old pit.

RJB, which bought the mine from British Coal in 1994, said geological problems had pushed up the cost of production at the mine to unsustainable levels.

The company's chief executive, Richard Budge, said the government knew the problems facing the industry in the UK as it struggled to compete with heavily-subsidised imports.

He said: "It is appropriate the government should at least consider some transitional financial support of the industry while prices recover.

[ image: The colliery is thought to suffer geological problems]
The colliery is thought to suffer geological problems
"When we acquired British Coal in 1994, imported coal prices were $40 per ton, today it is $21 per ton.

"It is a very difficult economic climate out there."

He said there were already 300,000 tons of coal stockpiled at Ellington which had yet to be sold.

He said the firm would work to find a future for the pit,

Company officials were hoping to talk to miners at a formal meeting later on Monday.

RJB said alternative work would be offered to miners, where possible, at the Selby coalfield in North Yorkshire.

Around 150 mineworkers staged a protest walk-out ahead of the announcement.

Unions say closure would be a major blow in an area of particularly high unemployment.

Ellington was closed by British Coal in 1994 during preparations for privatisation, but was bought and reopened by RJB two months later.

Second mine reviewed

The pit's workings extend under the North Sea, but it has been thought difficult to mine.

The coal found was also believed not to be of a high enough quality.

RJB, which owns 13 deep mines in England, is also reviewing its poorly-performing Stillingfleet colliery in Yorkshire.

The company has a further three surface mines in the north east.

It is expected to draw on these resources to continue supplying a three-year contract with Alcan aluminium, which has a smelter near the Ellington colliery.

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