The Selby Complex
Incorporating Wistow, Stillingfleet, Riccall, North Selby
and Gascoigne Wood Collieries
Selby, North Yorkshire
Background - By Dave Douglass
The last coalfield to be developed it offered hope of exploiting massive
reserves in a modern well planned mining system with the most up to date
techniques and machinery. The plans were approved by 1976 the largest
deep mine coal project ever undertaken in the world. The site covered
in excess of 110 square miles and were on stream in time to be battle
scenes in the 84/85 strike. In involved the sinking of 10 shafts and driving
124 miles of underground roadways at a cost of £1-3 billion. Accessing
the seams were far from easy and our old enemy water plagued the developments,
new consolidation methods had to be devised.
At full production around 1993-94 the complex was producing 12 million
tonnes of coal a year. By 2001 it had produced 110 million tonnes but
by the year 2000 production was down to 4.4 million tonnes per year, UK
Coal had taken over the nationalised complex believing coal was jam in
cake not geology, they had no intention of working faults and disturbances
and simply walked away from them. Many had predicted this would be the
case. Reserves were abandoned without a fight. Whitemoor and North Selby
'merged' with Stillingfleet and Riccall, and only proven fault free areas
were then worked.
Selby though a shiny youngster was old staffed just in time to join the
great strike in one such battle at Gascoigne Wood, some of the pickets,
clearly brought up on a strategy learned from the Westerns on telly deployed
their skills in freeing up all the cattle from the fields and herding
them in a stampede toward the cops with their riot shields. Whooping and
yelling behind a hundred or so snorting beats in a great cloud of dust
it looked like a scene from Bonaza. We were convinced that the mess laying
on the road afterwards didn't all come from the cattle, as the cops either
scattered for cover, of else likewise bred on a diet of TV westerns tried
to turn the cattle round to charge the pickets. Throughout the 84/85 strike
we had complained of press lies not simply bias. Gasgoine Wood was to
provide one of the most famous and blatant examples. Friday 17 Aug. 1984
both ITV and BBC 1 News at 5.40 covered the pickets at Gasgoine Wood who
had arrived to stop a solitary miner going to work. When the convoy of
police vehicles were seen coming down the pit lane the men assumed it
to be the scab coming in. They surged forward and feeling in buoyant and
confident mood swept the police right off the road and consequently blocked
it. The atmosphere had been jovial, the pickets confident of their personal
strength against the equally numbered police, as the pickets non-violently
but relentlessly pushed forward they were singing. A sergeant after trying
to hold back the swell but finally inched off the road conceded good naturedly
"I think that's one to you !". Next the police drew back a few
paces, a moment passed, then they drew truncheons and charged, swinging
and smashing into the packed ranks of pickets. At this moment the pickets
fell back into a ploughed field, and having nothing else to hand volleyed
the police with lumps of clay and earth. The sky for a few minutes was
black with flying mud. Both channels cut and reversed the film to show
the clods of earth being thrown and THEN the baton charge, at the same
time the pundits announcing:- "Police were forced to draw batons
to protect themselves against stone throwing pickets!"
However we digress
Many predicted mining at the complex would be a "smash and grab raid".
Raping coal from the ground without consideration to conservation of resources
and exploitation of the full reserves, it would prove to be a get rich
quick scheme, mining the easiest most accessible profitable seams and
abandoning millions of tonnes of untapped mineral. It seems scarcely credible
that two of the pits in the complex are already designated abandoned,
despite layers of untapped resources. North Selby the most northern of
the complex from start to finish of its life had little more than 12 years
production despite having access to an ocean of coal. The brightest predictions
were for the complex to work only another nine years, we are currently
hoping to survive to Xmas 2002 the only term which springs to mind is
wilful waste. The coalfield was controversial from the onset. Sunk in
rural Tory land-owning Selby the local gentry and their cap doffing workers
feared the invasion of horny handed miners with their wild ways and politics.
In order to pacify the gentrify the complex was designed so that no headgear
would be exposed. They would be squat low gears surrounded by red brick.
Dark satanic mills with whirling wheels over pit heads would not be the
image for Selby. Instead the PR conscious NCB would construct towers and
red brick walls around the winding gear, to make the enterprise look like
a vision of glass and technology, on the surface, to the outsider of course.
Below ground the pit was still the pit. Stringent restrictions for mining
reserves were imposed which allowed mining only in the Barnsley seam.
Even here the extent of working is greatly limited, The IMC Ltd Colliery
Review tells us "An application to work reserves to the east of the
river Derwent aroused significant local opposition". It had originally
been planned to transfer men to the newly built estates near to the collieries.
In truth despite subsidies, few made the transfer. The apparent hostility
of locals and lack of pit community forced most to stay in their own villages
and commute every day, sometimes lengthy distances.
There are five operating mines including the Gascoigne Wood drift which
receives all the mineral from the other five sites. A further restriction
in the area is due to the rural fear of the dreaded slag heap, spoil disposal
is a major difficulty in the environmentally and politically sensitive
area. Though we are told on site facilities are likely never to be exhausted
as the end of the whole complex is already incredibly in sight at the
time of first writing this peace we were pessimistically told nine years
life at best , despite massive untapped reserves particularly at Riccall
and Stillingfleet !
This has now been dramatically downgraded and we are fearful the whole
complex could be closed by Xmas this year (2002), the most outrageous
rape and waste of resources in the history of this already wasteful industry.
This despite a recent £40 million investment by the government,
we understand this was distributed to shareholders rather than invested
in new development as expected. Coupled to this of course is the 'rigged'
world market for coal, as Mr John Grogan MP for Selby said in his lengthy
House Of Commons speech on 16 April :- "if UK Coal received the same
value for its coal as the previous owners British Coal, it would receive
more than £40 per tonne, which would be about half the cost of mining
1 tonne of coal in Germany. However UK coal process are now less than
£30 per tonne. As a result the Selby complex lost more than £35
million last year bringing the losses in the past three years to £93
million." Grogan however earned the contempt of much of the industry
by requesting "closure aid" rather than aid to stay open, but
perhaps that judgement was too harsh. He was trying to stop a stampede
of craftsmen and heading crews diving over the side in order to claim
redundancy rates which were due to be withdrawn after July 2002. Such
panic would have brought forward the closures and left the communities
abandoned and unsupported. For his part he argued 'closure aid' would
soften the blow and give a controlled closure programme.
The Five mines are Wistow, Stillingfleet, Riccall, North Selby and Gascoigne
Wood. We are told the take is also affected by faulting. The majority
of the extract goes to power stations with some sales to manufactured
fuel and domestic.