South West Wales

Unity Mine owners file for administration

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Media captionThe workforce is to be maintained until further notice

The owners of Wales' largest mine are filing for administration, it has been confirmed.

The future of the Unity Mine, a drift mine near Neath, has been uncertain in recent months after management said they only had work for 66 of 220 staff.

Richard Nugent, director with Unity Mine Limited, said the company had been "forced into the process of filing for administration".

He added the workforce would be maintained until further notice.

"Unfortunately the Unity Group of Companies have been forced into the process of filing for administration whilst discussions continue about the future direction of the mine," he said.

"Fundraising negotiations are continuing with various parties and the current workforce will be maintained until further notice."

'Hopeful'

Neath MP Peter Hain said the situation was "deeply worrying, especially for the workforce and their families".

He added that he understood that discussions are taking place "imminently", with management at the mine "hopeful" that funding can be found to save the site.

"I am disappointed that recent discussions on grant aid did not succeed and I hope that these can be resurrected," he said.

Mr Hain added outstanding planning and licensing problems had to be resolved as they were putting off investors.

"Unity remains a vital and exciting project and everyone must do everything to ensure it can both be saved and can move forward because not only 250 existing jobs are at stake but potentially many more too," he said.

'Breathing space'

In recent months, workers at Unity Mine were told there was not enough work for everyone.

Staff offered to share shifts between all of the workers which meant they got on average a quarter of their previous pay.

It was seen as a way that could safeguard the pit's future.

At the time The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said it was not an ideal solution but it would provide a "breathing space".

But bosses at the mine were unable to remedy the situation and have filed for administration.

Wayne Thomas, of the NUM, said: "There's some uncertainty, to say the least.

"There's no clear steer about what the future of the mine is going to be and therefore everybody is devastated, including myself."

Gwenda Thomas, the assembly member for Neath, described the announcement that the mine had gone into administration as "extremely regrettable".

'Tragedy'

"I sincerely hope that the administrators can find new owners for the mine, and preserve the miners' jobs and the future of the apprentices," she said.

Welsh government officials are continuing to hold talks with the mine's management.

A spokesperson said:"The Welsh government continues to work with Unity Mine and other parties to seek to secure the long term future of the mine and the highly skilled workforce and apprentices employed there."

Meanwhile, Tyrone O'Sullivan, chairman of Tower Colliery in the Cynon Valley, said: "It's difficult for me to comment further because a number of ex-Tower employees are working there and we are a rival company.

"But it's a tragedy that in a country that burned 61 million tonnes of coal last year that we are allowing mines to close."

In September 2012 the BBC reported 94% of all Welsh coal came from opencast sites, the remainder from drift mines.

The vast majority work was at two pits in the Neath Valley at Unity and Aberpergwm which is currently closed.

Unity Mine opened in 2007 with reserves of up to 90 million tonnes of coal.

It is a drift mine, which means that miners can walk into it from the surface rather than having to be transported down to the coal seams via a lift in a shaft.

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