A revival of Southern Staffordshire's coal industry could help avert a growing energy crisis and provide a massive boost to the local economy, it was claimed yesterday.
Southern Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry said recent hikes in the price of gas had focused attention sharply on the importance of cheap energy to Britain's economy.
The Chamber, which represents the interests of 1,200 businesses in Cannock Chase, Lichfield, Tamworth and Burton, said that while the area's last deep mine may have closed more than a decade ago, the Government should not turn its back completely on the potential of coal.
Since 2003 all suppliers including British Gas, npower, EDF, Powergen, Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern had raised prices massively - up by as much as three quarters.
In the same period, the price of anthracite for domestic solid fuel systems had run ahead just 24 per cent, from £8.10 a bag to £10.05.
Major consumers were reexamining the use of coal to bolster their national fuel strategies. The Dutch were reopening mines and even the United States government was talking about investing in zero-emission coal-fired power plants.
Yet the British coal industry had been reduced to just eight operational pits, with UK Coal about to shut two more.
"It might appear crazy to talk about reviving our coal industry but to dismiss the option out-of-hand is shortsighted," said Peter Reid, chamber chief executive.
"When you consider the skills that still exist in Southern Staffordshire and the massive coal reserves that are still capable of being mined then it is foolhardy to dismiss the idea."
Mr Reid said Staffordshire's coal was of the highest quality, much superior to the cheap imports now being used to fire Britain's power stations, and a growth in the domestic market would be brilliant news for the local economy by creating jobs and stimulating investment.
"I realise that such calls are politically sensitive, but we cannot allow ourselves to be constantly held to ransom by foreign fuel producers and our domestic alternatives such as nuclear energy, hydro-electric and wind power are never going to be enough to meet demand.
"UK Coal is considering sinking a shaft in north Warwickshire at some point in the future in order to mine somewhere between 20-30 million tonnes of coal and the Chamber says that if it can be done there, it can be done in Southern Staffordshire as well." ..SUPL: