Thursday, 21 February 2019

The legacy of mining works

This part of Cornwall has a unique mining heritage. Redruth was once one of the wealthiest towns in the country and we exported mining expertise across the globe. Today that legacy means that we have World Heritage Site status and the many old engine houses around our towns are iconic. 
However, there is another legacy which periodically causes major problems to some residents. The ground beneath the whole Camborne, Pool and Redruth area is like a Swiss cheese with mine workings going back centuries. Many of the more recent features were mapped and are known about but others that go back further are sometimes not mapped.
The unexpected nature of some of these mining features can cause setbacks for major projects. There is an old local saying "deeper than Dolcoath" which is a reference to the depth of the old Dolcoath mine. When the new link road was being constructed, I visited civil engineers to see a problem they had discovered. There was a disused mine shaft that had been covered over with a thick metal plate, when it was removed they threw a large rock down the shaft, but no sound came back. The rock disappeared into the abyss. Fixing that and other similar problems was a costly exercise and caused delays. 
Over time, I have had a steady stream of constituents contact me with problems of unexpected subsidence that leaves them with huge personal costs. Sometimes people have had a mining survey completed with their mortgage application but then find unknown features which present problems that were not foreseen. There are two main survey companies locally and each has their own intellectual property in the form of old maps. There is not a perfect overlap of intelligence. In addition, many insurers will not include mining subsidence in their cover unless it actually threatens the house itself.  
I have been working to identify a possible solution to this problem. In older coal mining areas, there has always been a government backed scheme to help residents remedy such problems. This is because the coal industry was nationalised and when it was privatised, no one would take on historic liabilities. Therefore, there is a different approach for people who live in former coal mining areas than those living in tin mining areas. I recently wrote to the Chief Executive of Coal Authority and met the chief scientist at the Business Department to discuss the issue in greater depth and see if the law could be reformed so that there was equal treatment for people dealing with old tin mines. After all, the challenge is the same whether the mines were once publicly or privately owned. 
An alternative idea that I am exploring is whether there could be some sort of regulatory change to make it more likely that insurers will provide full cover for such projects within the curtilage of any property. In areas where there is a high flood risk and where homeowners are unable to access flood insurance due to the high risk, the government introduced a new mutualised risk scheme that meant a very small increase in all insurance bills in order to provide a mutual fund that could be accessed by all insurers to deal with high risk properties. It could be one way to address the issue. There is further to go to bring a solution through legislation, but I do feel there is an injustice here that has a particular local relevance and I am keen to try to find an answer.

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