a lad I used to take the bus home from school in Wakefield to the
pit village near Barnsley where I lived. It was a route which might
have been paved in Yorkshire coal.
impression wasn't just because of the umpteen pit tops and muck
stacks it passed. From the upper deck there was a birds-eye view
of the enormous range of other activities dependent on the mining
industry. You could look over the gates of conveyor belt manufacturers,
see stacks of pit props in yards, and watch hoppers filling power
station coal trucks in railway sidings.
back home there was no escaping the influence of coal. There were
four miners' welfare clubs in my village. Every football pitch,
cricket square, and bowling green was subsidised by the National
Coal Board. In the 1960s and 70s these would have been very familiar
experiences to the children of more than 120,000 mining families
across West and South Yorkshire.
a very different view now from the top deck of the bus
than thirty years later I occasionally travel the same route. It
could easily be in a different country. Pit tops have been bulldozed
and spoil heaps levelled. Smart housing estates have been built
on the sites where the mining equipment manufacturers used to stack
their products. One former pit yard is now the car park for a spanking
new Morrison's supermarket. There's a B and Q and a McDonald's right
next door. The area looks brighter, cleaner and far more prosperous.
year-long strike to save the coal industry in 1984 clearly failed.
The total number of surviving pits in the entire country is now
fewer than the number I used to pass on that bus ride home from
school. But if the economy and the environment are improving does
it really matter that well over a hundred thousand jobs in the Yorkshire
coal industry have gone since then?
is not such a simple question to answer as there's still much to
be done to overcome those pit closures. Unemployment remains high
and many of the new service and light industrial companies induced
to move into former coal fields have brought with them a relatively
lower wage economy. Hundreds of millions of pounds of European aid
have been spent but more is still required. Traditionally low achievement
levels in schools are creeping up but still have a long way to go.
if the same level of recent progress can be maintained should we
really care that the vast majority of the coal industry has been
obliterated? Perhaps that's a question that can only be answered
by a child travelling on one of today's school buses.