Reproduced from the Big Issue in the North magazine.
Plans are now well advanced for the construction of a new coal mine in Yorkshire that will be operated by a workers’ co- operative.
Some £12 million has been raised by New Crofton Co-op Colliery Limited and in September the ground will be broken to begin developing a new shallow drift mine in fields at Crofton, near Wakefield. When fully operational over 200,000 tonnes of coal could be mined annually over the next 20 years.
The venture could create 50 new jobs. Every worker will become part of the co-operative, which will run the mine, by investing £10,000. They will be paid a weekly wage and an annual dividend from half of the anticipated £100 million profits.
The other 50 per cent profit is earmarked for re-investment in renewable energy projects, co- operative and social enterprises, and housing projects. There will also be a charitable foundation earmarked to receive £10 million from the coal revenue.
Environmental scientist Jonathan Clarke and mining specialist Bill Birch are two of the figures behind the mine scheme.
Clarke, who also runs Humberside Co-operative Development Agency, was approached to get involved in 2012. “Initially I thought no way am I getting involved in a coal mine,” he said. “I do work around renewable energy including trying to get wind turbines in Wolds Valley.
“Then I realised that coal will be used to power industry and people’s homes for the foreseeable future. I thought it would be better to use locally mined coal than have it transported thousands of miles.”
Although renewable sources such as wind and solar energy are making progress towards meeting the EU target of generating 30 per cent of the UK’s electricity by 2020, coal remains important and currently contributes over a third to the overall capacity.
In 2013, 83 per cent of the 60.7 million tonnes of coal consumed in the UK was imported. The percentage is going to increase as Kellingley, in North Yorkshire, and Thoresby in Nottinghamshire are both earmarked for closure this year. This will leave only the employee-owned Hatfield Colliery near Doncaster operating in an industry that once employed over a million men nationally. Miners from Kellingley are amongst the 120 people who have already applied for a job at New Crofton.
Opening new coalmines flies in the face of the views of many environmental experts, who say the use of carbon-based fuels should be phased out as soon as possible if the planet is to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Asked if it would be better to keep Britain’s vast remaining coal stocks underground, Clarke replied that technology to create carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems should be pursued. “The technological aspects of CCS are unremarkable and we have shown in the past with sulphur dioxide that we can control harmful emissions,” he claimed.
“The White Rose project next to Drax’s power station in North Yorkshire will burn sufficient coal for over 600,000 homes and will capture 90 per cent of the CO2 emissions and then store it under the North Sea. Hopefully our coal can be utilised in a similar fashion.
“But the major change is that people must understand that future electricity generation is going to be more expensive. The corresponding price increase will make it viable for us to mine coal here and for CCS to be utilised to cut carbon emissions.”
Work to get the mine operating is moving quickly. Hargreaves Services, which has agreed to purchase all the coal mined in its first three years, will start in September the initial drive into the ground of the two sloping tunnels that will allow coal to be extracted from shallow seams. Network Rail is improving access to the site, which runs alongside the main Leeds to London line. This will then enable coal wagons to be able to load up to 1,000 tonnes of coal in an hour.
Pay rates at the mine will vary. However, the colliery’s financial plan means the highest paid staff will earn no more than twice the lowest.
If the predictions for the future price of coal prove accurate, and a profit of £100 million is realised, then this will mean the lowest paid at the mine will have an annual income of around £50,000.
The New Crofton Colliery Investment Fund that will spend half the profits from the mine has been set up. Smaller unemployment, conservation and recreational projects in the local communities of Crofton, Ryhill, Winters and Havercroft will be funded by the £10 million charitable foundation, whose directors will include village representatives.
“I have always been inspired by the Mondragon federation of workers co-operatives in Spain and I hope we can kickstart a similar creation,” said Clarke. “We can’t change the world but we can introduce radical changes that can make things better for people here.”
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