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Saturday, 30 August 2014

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Coal mine near Longtown could create up to 400 jobs and rail freight hub

A new rail freight hub may be one of the spin-offs from a mining project that could create up to 400 jobs.

Val Tarbitt photo
Val Tarbitt

It is one of three schemes which aim to exploit resources in the Lochinvar coalfield, east of Longtown.

The coalfield was discovered in the 1950s but is only now being explored.

Two of the projects, near Canonbie, will be based around coal itself.

Australian firm New Age Exploration (NAE) wants to extract coking coal, which is used in the production of steel, using underground tunnels.

The Bedfordshire-based Kier group, meanwhile, has a partnership with landowner Buccleuch Estates to explore the possibility of open cast mining, which would involve extraction from deposits near the surface.

Another Australian company, Dart Energy, has a licence to drill for methane gas in the coal field. It has taken over exploration firm Greenpark Energy, which first announced plans to drill in 2007.

But Dart Energy is currently focussing its efforts on other projects elsewhere in Scotland.

Ian Wilson, a non-executive director at NAE’s project, explained that the coking coal was one of the minerals used to make steel.

“It doesn’t have the offensive side of coal, it really is a clean process,” he said.

The area they will explore will go as far north as Evertown, near Canonbie, and as far south as Longtown.

The coal is at its shallowest in the north and west of the field and any mining operation would be likely to start from this point.

It would be extracted by miners who would work underground. A series of tunnels would be constructed to allow this.

Mr Wilson said that a mine at full strength could create between 200 and 300 jobs with an estimated 25 per cent more coming in support industries.

He also pointed out that the coal would be transported to steel plants by rail, which would require a new freight hub to be built.

The nearest public train line to the field is where the West Coast Mainline and Nith Valley lines meet at Gretna. There is, however, an existing rail hub at the Longtown military munitions depot.

However, Mr Wilson, stressed that the project was at a very early stage with many surveys and examinations needing to be carried out.

The earliest date it is likely it would be operative is 2016.

The Kier/Buccleuch project concerns a surface mine in another part of the coalfield. This is also at an early stage.

John Glen, chief executive of the Buccleuch Group, which owns large tracts of the countryside between Langholm and Longtown, said: “There are a number of potential energy resources at Canonbie and on other land managed by the group, which could make a meaningful contribution to energy provision and needs.

“Furthermore, should these opportunities be explored successfully there will be significant employment opportunities in the area.”

Mark Harrington, director of Kier Minerals, said: “As a long-established mining company, we are pleased to be working in conjunction with Buccleuch Estates to explore the potential energy opportunities in the Canonbie coalfield.

“Together, we will approach this in a strategic and considered way.

“As part of this process, we will consult and engage with the local community and other interested parties to advise of our progress and seek feedback and views as our proposals are developed.”

The potential employment boost from mining in the Longtown area comes as the community continues to await a decision on the fate of 300 jobs at the closure-threatened Ministry of Defence depot on the outskirts of the town.

Val Tarbitt, Cumbria County Council member for Longtown and Bewcastle, said: “Something as big as that wouldn’t just be jobs for Longtown.”

She suggested that the rail link at the depot could also be used to carry coal.

An announcement had been expected from the Government on the Longtown depot’s future a month ago, but was delayed pending the investigation into the theft of munitions from a train that had left the base.

The MoD had proposed to close the base down in 2014 and transfer its functions to Kineton in Warwickshire – triggering a fierce campaign from politicians and trade unions.

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