Thursday, 3 February 2011

Mining returns to Cornwall

Redruth has long been recognised as the international home of the tin and copper mining industries. During the 19th Century, the town became a booming centre of commerce on the back of this world beating industry.

I recently visited South Crofty to meet some modern day miners who want to re-open the mine and have already invested a considerable sum of money prospecting. Because we associate tin mining with our industrial past, it is common for people to dismiss the idea that Cornish mining might once again be a successful, profitable industry. Throughout the 20th century, there were periods where tin prices peaked and the industry was temporarily profitable again, only to be followed by the inevitable bust.

Can they buck that trend now? The first thing to say is that these plans are for a modern, state of the art mine that would be unlike anything that has gone before. It would be the most modern mine in the UK today. The technology for separating out various metals has developed in leaps and bounds in recent years. So this time round, they would not just be mining for tin, but also Zinc, Copper and other trace elements simultaneously.

The most important and sought after of these trace elements is Indium. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it is there on the Periodic Table. It turns out that Indium is a crucial ingredient in the production of modern touch screen technology. The rapid emergence of an entire new industry in I-pads and I-phones has driven demands for Indium through the roof and there has been a ten-fold increase in the price in the last decade. At the moment, most of the world’s supply of Indium is controlled by China. That would change if South Crofty re-opened.

Tin has also experienced a revival and its price has been driven higher by new high-tech industries. Most of the tin produced today is used to produce solder for the electronics industry. A few years ago, new legislation came out which banned the use of lead in soldering metal and so most solder today uses tin and tin alone. So every mobile phone, computer, X-Box or other electronic gadget needs tin to make them tick. When you weigh all this up, it stops looking like an old industry.

This is an exciting time for Camborne and Redruth. I have always made clear that delivering economic regeneration is my number one priority. Last autumn, work began on the new Heartlands project at Pool which is really taking shape. But within the next few years, if we get things right, we could have a new mine employing 400 people, a new link road joining Camborne and Redruth, new housing in Tuckingmill and a whole range of new industries offering skilled, highly paid jobs for local people.