Future of Coal in the UK

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 3rd December 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North 2:44 pm, 3rd December 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Holden on securing this debate. I let the Minister know he has my absolute full support for seeing that, where there is an opportunity for us to bring up British coal to help make British products in order to sell global Britain around the world—exactly what the 72% of people in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke who voted for Brexit wanted to see—we must absolutely do it.

I am going to go down memory lane slightly. When the coal industry was nationalised in 1947, there were 59 collieries in Staffordshire. Now, sadly, there is none. Out of the five collieries that were operational in my constituency, the last pit to close was the mighty Chatterley Whitfield in 1977. It is a colliery equivalent to the Colosseum in Rome. When you visit, you can be under no illusion as to why this site is a scheduled ancient monument, a silent colossus—one that nature is quickly reclaiming.

Come 2040, no coal-powered stations will be left standing in this country. On the continent, wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy generated 40% of the EU’s electricity in the first half of this year, beating fossil fuels, which accounted for 34%. So is there a future for coal? I absolutely believe that there is. A site such as Chatterley Whitfield is a perfect example of how the future of coal lies within the tourism sector and the green agenda.

Working with Historic England, I hope to bring forward a vision for the county’s first national industrial heritage park at the site. Nature is reclaiming the vile structures, from ivy growing up the mine wheels to trees sprouting from the great boiler houses. The colliery offers a unique insight into how nature operates on our windustrial past. When coal mining left the Ruhr valley in Germany, the collieries were regenerated as natural parks with great success. Restored rivers and wetlands draw migratory birds, hikers and bikers to the former mining sites, along with euros for the local economy. They are once again humming, but with the sound of not mine shafts and workers, but birds and visitors.

I hope that one day the first national industrial heritage park will be based at the former Chatterley Whitfield colliery, the first colliery to produce 1 million tons within a year, in 1937, and it repeated that success in 1939. I give a special call-out to Councillor Dave Evans of Baddeley, Milton and Norton ward, who has a long history and, sadly, has family members who passed away and lost their lives during their time working as miners on that site.

In 2015, Stoke-on-Trent City Council was successful in securing £19.75 million in funding from the Government to help to deliver the infrastructure for a low-carbon district heating network, or DHN. It is a network of underground pipes to deliver heat via hot water between an energy centre and the buildings connected to the system. It harnesses heat from low-carbon sources such as deep geothermal energy, which is commonly found around former coalfields. Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire is a hotbed of geothermal energy. The network also offers opportunities for young people, and Stoke-on-Trent is now home to an urban heat academy, which will be able to share the expertise we are generating in Stoke with other parts of the country. In a sense, that does bring back an element of mining. The source of hot water is more than 3 kilometres below the surface. Pipes are being mined downwards to access it. This carbon-free heat source removes the need for traditional boilers, in line with the Government’s aims to stop their installation from 2025, and has zero risk of carbon monoxide. I ask the Government to assist with this by asking Staffordshire University and Stoke-on-Trent Sixth-Form College, both located at the centre of the first phase of the network, to speed up their sign-ups to this sustainable energy source.

There may not be a future for coal mining long term, but the legacy of coal is not all bad. There are real green opportunities on offer in these former centres of mining.