Opencast plan for Tower Colliery site in Hirwaun

Tower Colliery at Hirwaun Mining ceased at Tower Colliery, the last deep pit in Wales, in 2008

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Plans have been submitted for an opencast mine at the site of the last deep pit in Wales.

Tower Colliery near Hirwaun closed in 2008 but around 6m tonnes of anthracite remain untapped.

Tyrone O'Sullivan, the man who led the successful workers' buyout of the mine when it faced closure in 1994, is behind the idea.

An application has been submitted to Rhondda Cynon Taf council and is likely to be considered later in the year.

It is estimated the opencast operation would last for around seven years after which landscaping and remedial work would take place.

The coal would be extracted from a depth of down to 165m, and is on the 480-acre (195 hectares) old washery site, and the opencast will be 200 acres (80 hectares) in size.

It would be transported by train to Aberthaw power station in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The site is still owned by the 280 directors - former miners - of Tower colliery.

TOWER HISTORY

  • 1805 The site of the colliery was first worked
  • 1864 The first drift, named Tower, was started on Hirwaun common
  • March 1984 Thousands of miners went on strike after it was announced 20 pits were to close with the loss of 20,000 jobs
  • 1985 After a year of striking, miners agreed to go back to work - but pits closed rapidly over the next few years
  • 1994 The industry was privatised and British Coal closed Tower Colliery on April 22, saying it would be uneconomical to continue production
  • Local MP, Ann Clwyd, staged a sit-in in the mine to protest against its closure, £2m was raised by 239 miners, led by Tyrone O'Sullivan to buy Tower
  • 1995 After being told their bid was successful, the miners marched back to the pit as its owners on January 2
  • 1999 An opera tells the story of the Tower rescue
  • 2001 A contract to supply Aberthaw power station secures jobs at the pit
  • 2004 Celebrating 10 years of the buy-out, Tyrone O'Sullivan said: "We've competed with the world. It's not that we've been lucky."
  • 2006 Dwindling coal seams are blamed for the decision to close Tower within three years
  • June 2008 Miners at the now-closed colliery are given a ceremony at the Senedd to mark Tower's job creation, the coal industry and the history of Wales
  • August 2010 Plans are submitted to opencast 5.9m tonnes of anthracite at the Tower Colliery site

Source: BBC archives

Mr O'Sullivan said the directors saw the scheme as a legacy project for the area, with waste from the opencast mining being used to strengthen iron workings below.

He said: "We would love to have worked it as an ordinary deep mine, to extend the life and all the skills of the workforce at Tower [colliery], but it's too shallow for that, so it'll be opencasted.

"It's a very exciting time. This is the one chance we can have of taking the coal out, using that to secure the iron workings that's below as well.

"Then we would have a site perfect for a redevelopment programme, which I think is very exciting for jobs, housing, tourism, leisure and a retail park.

"It's something we can bring to the valleys - new jobs, modern jobs for Wales - that we desperately need."

He said he expected opposition to the opencast plan but not from people in the locality.

"We will have some objections. I don't believe the people of Hirwaun, Rhigos and Penywaun [will object] because they have lived next to a huge coal heap for 200 years, really," he said.

The council said the application, which is accompanied by an environmental statement, is unlikely to be considered before November.

A spokesman said consultation had been carried out and, although the deadline for responses was Thursday, anyone interested in making comments both for and against could continue to do so until the application went before its development control committee.

Tower Colliery was bought by 239 miners in 1995, who pooled their £8,000 redundancy money to raise £2m, a year after it was closed down.

Experts warned them that their plan would not work, but it remained open for 13 years.

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