The Legacy of Coal Mining

In the summer, I read an article in the Observer newspaper that questioned whether we are facing the imminent end of Coal as an energy source in Britain writes Allie Parsons, Customer Success Consultant, Landmark Information

Looking back at where we have come from, UK coal production was around 70 million tonnes a year in the mid-18th century and rose to a peak of just under 300 million tonnes by 1913 according to the UK Government figures.  However usage of the fossil fuel has significantly dropped as residential use has largely ended and just eight million tonnes was reportedly used by UK industry last year, with only two million supplied from UK sources.

Today, UK mining is virtually wiped out, having fallen from 3,000 mines at the peak to just 13 now, and coal represents approximately five per cent of overall annual energy usage.

From the heights of the industrial era, coal production now leaves behind a significant and long-lasting legacy that will continue to have an impact on the country, well into the future.  Ground stability poses a real hazard for properties located over or even near mine workings for decades to come.

Therefore, when transacting properties, it is important to consider ground risks as part of any due diligence work.  While the West Midlands is not necessarily known as having the country’s primary mining fields, with people instead pointing to Wales or Lancashire first, a great deal of mining activity took place across the whole region.

For example: the Coventry Colliery was situated in the village of Keresley, just east of the Ricoh Arena, which was active for over 70 years, finally closing in 1991; the Baggeridge Colliery in Sedgley is now the location of the Baggeridge Country Park following the mine’s closure back in the 1960s. It is reported that there were over 500 small scale pits located in and around the Black Country alone, leaving behind a honeycomb of underground tunnels, waterways and caverns, and hence hidden risk of impact on any properties in the vicinity.

I spoke to Phil Huddleston MRICS, a Director of PinPoint Coal Ltd and former Head of Mining Information at the Coal Authority to talk about what lawyers need to consider when undertaking ground stability due diligence on property transactions:

“Mining coal below the ground can cause subsidence. With deep mining this lowering of the surface takes place over a relatively short period of time. This can manifest itself as tension or compression strains resulting in damage to buildings or quite simply a lowering of the surface and no damage at all. Shallower workings do not consolidate in the same way and the impact of these can continue for much longer, representing a continued present-day risk.

“The Coventry Colliery, which worked under the Coundon area of Coventry is a prime example. The area affected at the surface by mining activities is in fact much greater than the area of coal itself, which people are often unaware of.  We call this the ‘Zone of Influence’ (ZOI) and determining the ZOI is a complex three-dimensional calculation based upon the depth and slope of the workings, together with the surface terrain. Due to the multiple angles, directions and depths often involved, it is not sufficient to simply create a ‘buffer’ around a mine.

“These complex calculations are important and take into account a huge amount of data, which enables us to assess ground stability risks associated with mining activities with a very high degree of accuracy.”

Of course,  much coal mining was a long time ago so we have to ask ‘what is the relevance today’?  Within the area affected by these deep workings the number of properties damaged is not universal or consistent. What is known however is that nearly every property within the area shown has made a subsidence damage claim against British Coal.

Obtaining a Coal Mining Report enables prospective purchasers to be made aware of the risks and in this particular case to see whether there is any history of damage – including where a claim has been made, or even been rejected.

Continues Phil, “If the claim was accepted and repairs were carried out, it is suggested that you might want to commission a survey to check if the repairs are of an adequate standard. In addition, if compensation was paid instead of repairs, it is important to know why and what, if anything, was done in relation to the damage.”

The soon to be released Landmark  Coal Mining Report – powered by PinPoint – will provide all the standard answers required by the Law Society together with (as appendices) additional information about mine entries and claims when they are reported. The reports are supported by professional opinion from a Chartered Minerals Surveyor.

While coal mining may be largely condemned to the history books, its after-effects leave behind a lasting legacy that certainly means it shall not be forgotten, and cannot be ignored.