Page last updated at 16:55 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Quarry losses hit Snowdonia town

The Ffestiniog (Oakeley) Quarry will be moth-balled in April
The Ffestiniog (Oakeley) Quarry will be moth-balled in April

A town which owes its existence to the slate industry is mourning the closure of one of the last quarries.

On Tuesday Welsh Slate said it had no choice but to "moth-ball" Ffestiniog (Oakeley) Quarry because subsidence had been discovered.

Out of the 55 workers, about half will be offered work at the Welsh Slate quarry at Penrhyn in Bethesda.

A hundred years ago 2,000 men were employed in the slate industry. Two quarries now remain open in the town.

The announcement has left a "dark cloud over the quarry, and a dark cloud over the town," according to one councillor.

"It's looking bleak at the moment," said Gwynedd county councillor Dafydd Hughes.

He added the workers had years of experience and specialised skills.

Gwilym Euros Roberts, who is also a county councillor, said the quarry's closure was a "devastating blow".

Although half the jobs were being transferred to Bethesda it was "money going out of the local economy however you look at it".

If WAG is serious about economic regeneration in Blaenau Ffestiniog then it has to make a commitment to the upgrade of the railway line
Father Deiniol, Eastern orthodox priest

Mr Roberts said there was no-one to blame for what had happened because it was simply a case of safety.

"I'd like to pay credit to the workers as they've taken reduced pay and hours to try and keep things going here," he said.

"It's been in vain... but it's not been an easy decision for anybody.

"Here health and safety is an issue and that is paramount," he added.

There were "exciting" ideas to develop the town for cultural and environmental tourism, but tourism is seen as seasonal work, he said.

'Serious blow'

"I think we need to work with the Welsh Assembly Government and the local authority, and other partners, to bring in new investment," Mr Roberts added.

Dr David Gwyn, a heritage consultant and industrial archaeologist, said the quarry closure was a "serious blow for Blaenau Ffestiniog which is still a city of slate".

The town would not be there if it was not for slate, he said.

"A hundred years ago it was very lively, full of shops... with four railways stations within half a mile of the town," he said.

"Two thousand men were working in the quarry, so it utterly dominated the town," he added.

Half the workforce will be offered jobs at Penrhyn Quarry in Bethesda
Half the workforce will be offered jobs at Penrhyn Quarry in Bethesda

There was no Blaenau Ffestiniog before slate, he said.

"There will always be a demand for Welsh slates even though it might be for the luxury end of the market - and it would be a pity if that happened," Dr Gwyn added.

Father Deiniol, from All Saints Church in Wales and a resident of the town, said the way forward was to develop the Conwy Valley railway line so it could carry slate waste.

"The industry needs to diversify and needs to do that by implementing the slate aggregates by rail scheme," he said.

To do this the railway line needed to be upgraded but this was something the Welsh Assembly Government (Wag) was refusing to do, he said.

He added: "It refused to do this whilst spending £200m in this region on new roads which do not create one sustainable job.

'Economic regeneration'

"If WAG is serious about economic regeneration in Blaenau Ffestiniog then it has to make a commitment to the upgrade of the line."

A WAG spokesperson said they acknowledged the "uncertainty" created by the decision to moth-ball the Ffestiniog Quarry.

Schemes to create employment opportunities in the area would carry on, the spokesperson said.

"We have already made a recent investment of £4.5m in Blaenau Ffestiniog to boost the local economy.

"This investment is designed to create the right environment for business, attract investment and build a quality destination, linking together the key attractions of the town is vital to develop the economic prosperity of the town and its residents."

A report in September 2009 had concluded however that there was insufficient potential to justify the level of investment needed to upgrade the railway line to carry freight.

"The Welsh Assembly Government and the Council will however continue to work together to look at other ways in which the railway can contribute to the regeneration of the area," the spokesperson added.

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Job losses at north Wales quarry
16 Mar 10 |  North West Wales


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