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MINISTER ADVISES ON PLANNING CHALLENGES TO OPENCAST MINING

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A thriving coal industry which, just a year after privatisation, has increased production and sales while reducing ...
A thriving coal industry which, just a year after privatisation, has increased production and sales while reducing imports, has confounded the prophets of doom, said junior energy minister Richard Page today.

Speaking to the Coal Industry Society in London, Mr Page said:

'There are 29 ex-British Coal pits operating in the private sector, and the Jeremiahs said there would only be 14. Statistics show three significant year-on-year changes:

-- production from deep mines is up, provisionally by 13%

-- sales are up by an estimated 18%

-- imports of steam coal are down; on the provisional figures, 16% down

'Good financial results are reported by some companies. The biggest company, RJB, exceeded expectations and has been able to pay off some of their borrowings ahead of schedule.

'But a much smaller company, Tower, made the news headlines with its gratifying first year's results.

'Of course, when a company profits, so do the employees. At Tower, the workers are the company, and share directly in the profits. RJB has improved the take-home pay of its workforce, which includes a profit-related element. They may also benefit from an allocation of shares once the company's financial results are reported.

'And though the domestic market is in long-term decline any major buyout of concessionary coal entitlements has been postponed for at least two years.

'The picture overall is certainly encouraging and it is due to the hard work, energy and enthusiasm of the companies and individuals up and down the industry.

'But the industry does face challenges and the biggest are in the area of environmental concerns.

'People no longer accept that mess and environmental impact have to go with economic growth. And they are right to question it.

'The Government has responded to concerns which may have an effect on the industry and its markets. Controls in sulphur emissions, a tougher planning regime for opencast mining, and a landfill tax are all examples.

'The DTI is always concerned that the impact of new legislation on industry is properly considered. To do that it needs industry's views. Industry needs to speak with one voice if it is to be effective - not only with government, but with the public.

'To address challenges such as a tougher planning regime for opencast mining, environmental legislation, and training and investment, the coal industry needs one voice, properly independent of any single producer.'

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