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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 11:27 GMT
Inquiry into troubled mine's future
Coal mine
UK Coal owns 14 collieries in the United Kingdom
Hopes have been raised of a lifeline for Pontefract's Prince of Wales Colliery with the announcement that a full and independent inquiry into its viability is to be carried out.

The investigation will be paid for by the Department of Trade and Industry.

It comes after pit owner UK Coal revealed they had found geological problems at West Yorkshire's last deep mine which would probably make it too expensive to work.

The claim is disputed by the National Union of Miners and pithead deputies union Nacods.

There are still lots of areas around the pit that we can go into

Gary Foreman, Nacods

Pontefract and Castleford MP, Yvette Cooper, who has met workers, said the inquiry was a step forward but she remained cautious about the future.

Experienced staff at the mine say there could be other seams of coal worth mining, away from the seam under dispute which is called Wentedge.

Underground faults

Nacods branch secretary at the colliery, Gary Foreman, told BBC News Online: "There are still lots of areas around the pit that we can go into.

"I have been there for 30 years, and there are other people who know the area and the pit and the geography, who are all too willing to help and put forward their expertise."

Yvette Cooper MP
Yvette Cooper MP: Meetings with workers

More than 400 workers at Prince of Wales Colliery, Pontefract, could lose their jobs when coal seams run out next summer, after the discovery by owners UK Coal of two underground faults.

The discovery of the flaws means the shelving of a multi-million pound development to gain access to eight million tonnes of untapped coal reserves in the Wentedge seam.

The mine, the last working mine in the Wakefield area, is the oldest colliery still in production in the UK and has a history dating back to the 1860s.

The company has decided to end development of Wentedge and concentrate on areas known as 136 Coalface and 138 Coalface.

They only have enough coal to be mined until August next year.

Annual losses

The company has spent 18m over the past two years on the Wentedge project, with 5,000 metres of tunnel driven to reach the reserves.

UK Coal director of deep mines, Alec Galloway, said: "Our assessment is that if we continue mining in that area, the colliery will sustain annual losses in the order of 15m a year.

"This is a financial burden we cannot contemplate.

As part of a business viability exercise earlier this year, the firm, which owns 14 pits in the UK, declined to rule out mine closures.

Click here to go to Leeds
See also:

12 Sep 01 | Business
Buyer named for struggling colliery
14 Mar 01 | Business
The changing face of UK jobs
06 Mar 01 | Business
Coal firm unveils land sales
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