Personally Speaking: Plenty to ponder on the future of former colliery – David Proudlove


As with thousands of other people, I travel into the Potteries conurbation most days along the A527 and gaze in wonder at the rotting hulk that is the Chatterley Whitfield colliery.

I got to thinking about the old place over the past few days, particularly as yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of the end of the Miner’s Strike.

I was eight years old at the time. My parents weren’t involved in the mining industry, but we knew people who were, and I remember the dinner ladies at my school striking in solidarity.

I learned more about the strike later in life as I began my career and spent time working in communities affected by the subsequent demise of the industry and its aftermath.

For what caused most damage and hurt was the virtual abandonment of coalfield communities that followed, communities that were raised on coal, that relied on the industry for their living.

Told to ‘get on their bikes’ to find new sources of employment, such communities often became alienated from mainstream life, with the now recognised social ills of such public policy – drug and alcohol abuse, health issues, housing problems – spiralling out of control.

Various Government-sponsored initiatives were developed to help combat these problems, but the funds made available were mere breadcrumbs.

Former colliery sites have been transformed into business parks and new housing estates, and were trumpeted as the saviours of coalfield communities. However, many former colliers have not found new work on the revamped pit sites, and very few mining families live in these new homes.

Chatterley Whitfield Colliery was once the largest working mine in the North Staffordshire coalfeild and the first pit in the UK to produce 1,000,000 tons of saleable coal in a year

Indeed, coalfield areas continually come out at the top of lists of the country’s most deprived communities.

The remnants of the mining industry in North Staffordshire quickly disappeared.

For example, Hem Heath colliery has been reclaimed and is now a massive business park and the home of Stoke City Football Club, Wolstanton Colliery is now a retail park that includes a 24 hour supermarket, and Norton Colliery has been transformed into a huge suburban housing estate.

However, the Potteries possesses the most complete former colliery site in Europe in Chatterley Whitfield, which is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument with a host of listed buildings.

It was one of the most productive mines in the country, and in 1939 was the first colliery in Britain to achieve an annual output of one million tons.

The colliery ceased production in 1977, becoming the Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum which too closed its doors in 1993 before in excess of £20million of investment in the site during the noughties helped to open an enterprise centre and a country park, while there was vague talk of developing the site as a ‘sustainable business park’.

But this wasn’t enough, and it was never going to be enough – in 2004 the cost of just restoring the buildings on site was put at £54 million. To put this into context, Historic England’s annual budget for grants is £34 million.

For a number of years, interest in the site appeared to wane, and but for the excellent Friends of Chatterley Whitfield and the successful Heritage Open Days, who knows where we’d be?

Ironically, it has taken the turning of the local political tide for the profile of Chatterley Whitfield to rise once again.

Ward councillor Dave Evans has been vocal in his backing of the site, while ahead of December’s General Election, new Tory local MP Jonathan Gullis stated that the regeneration of the site was one of his top priorities.

Deracinated from Salisbury, Jonathan’s interest in the site would be welcomed by all with a love of Chatterley Whitfield, and maybe he can be the greaser that makes things happen. But what will he do differently from his predecessors?

Read More

Top stories on StokeonTrentLive

For me, although there have been ideas in the past – step forward Joan Walley – there has never been a proper vision for the site that both respects its history, but also looks to the future.

There has never been an appreciation of the economics associated with the regeneration of the site, and that grant funding alone will never be a solution.

And there has never been an acknowledgement that the site’s location in the Green Belt hamstrings potential solutions, but at the same time could enable change.

So, a lot for Jonathan Gullis to ponder. But I commend him for putting his head above the parapet and for helping to raise the profile of Chatterley Whitfield once again.





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *