Coal mining in Warwickshire dates back from 13th century. The rise and fall of the industry in the ‘80s and ‘90s can be seen in the proposed super-pit at Hawkhurst Moor, in Coventry.
Feasibility study or stealthy investigation?
It could be said that the story of this proposed super-pit actually started in May 1980. Hawkhurst Moor Farm once occupied a site located to the west of Coventry centre between Benton Green Lane, Broad Lane and Banner Lane. It was on these fields that it was planned to build the largest coal mine in Europe; a site latterly dominated by the Massey Ferguson Works (closed in 2002). The last evidence of which was the company’s tower block which was demolished in July 2012 to make way for a new housing development.
‘A Consultation Paper by the NCB1, South Midlands Area -THE SOUTH WARWICKSHIRE PROSPECT’ was issued widely pre the full environmental evaluation. This was a comprehensive document that paved the way for the planning permission application for the new super-pit.
Boreholes had been drilled between 1976-1980 proving the geology of the prospect, i.e. proving of coal seams, their quality and thickness (reserves). The NCB used the term ‘Coal in Place’ which translated into seams over 60cm thick and less than 1200m deep. In South Warwickshire this amounted to approximately 1900 million tonnes of good quality coal which was known to be low in sulphur and chlorine content.
The BCC submitted the planning application for the new mine in July 1987 and the public inquiry followed.
Productivity and Market Forces confirm viability?
In 1990 the BCC national production budget was for 80 million tonnes of coal even accounting for closures. After the miners’ strike, productivity had increased by 70% and operating costs reduced by 30%, and it was decided that a proposal for a new mine with a life expectancy estimated at 50 years from start of production would succeed. The prevailing price of imported coal, currency fluctuations and the collapse of the oil market at the time also suggested that the project itself was viable, as was the location. The forecast for production contributing to the UK energy market of this new super-pit would be the same as from the existing Daw Mill and Keresley collieries which at that time were producing good coal for power generation at a number of large UK coal-fired power stations, and the quality of Warwickshire coal easily exceeded The Central Electricity Generating Board’s (CEGB) specification.
What could be a problem?
It was anticipated that the visual impact on the landscape and associated leisure facilities above ground on Warwickshire would be minimal, as most of the prospective mine workings were to be between one and 1.2 km below ground. An interesting point from the Warwickshire view (especially as the larger part of the underground workings were to be beneath Warwickshire), was the geological consideration and the potential for subsidence.
Many listed buildings in Warwickshire are constructed with timber frames and infill, wattle and daub etc. Kenilworth Castle is built on a slab of sandstone and none of these are the best for coping with subsidence so understandably there were concerns; some even felt it would impact on the tourist trade. The possible incidence of subsidence was not generally considered a problem unless an area became very heavily built up; it would therefore be vitally important to maintain good communication with householders in order to avoid anxiety among them, as the super-pit would significantly affect the built up area of Coventry.
1 The NCB became BCC – British Coal Corporation in 1987
References – see the third article for a full list.