Worlds largest slate mine to close for safety reasons

WHAT was once the world’s largest slate mine is to shut – because it’s in danger of collapsing.

Crackswere spotted in the surface of the historic Oakeley Quarry in BlaenauFfestiniog, and bosses at Welsh Slate decided to shut it immediately toprotect workers’ safety.

It means up to 30 of the site’s 55staff will lose their jobs in six weeks’ time, and another 25 to 30will be offered jobs at Penrhyn Quarry, Bethesda, which is owned by thesame company.

Expert geologists were called in after”significant” cracks emerged on the surface of the site two weeks ago,and found they were caused by subsidence in mine chambers. Bosses saythey had no option but to “mothball” the 179-year-old quarry, alsoknown as Gloddfa Ganol and Ffestiniog.

Shocked workers were yesterday told the exact number of job losses hasn’t been decided yet, and unions will be consulted.

Theannouncement came within hours of confirmation that a bid to upgradethe Conwy Valley railway line between Blaenau Ffestiniog and LlandudnoJunction to carry aggregates and slate waste had been unsuccessful.

Uniteunion official Paddy McNaught said: “We will be looking at the companyto protect some of the jobs by moving them to Bethesda or re-locatingto Cwt-y-Bugail quarry, Blaenau.

“It will be an end of an eraat that particular quarry (Oakeley). It’s very disappointing anddevastating for a community that already has been devastated by joblosses and job cuts.”

Welsh Slate managing director Alan Smith said it had simply become too dangerous to keep mining the slate.

Hetold the Daily Post: “The Oakeley is underneath older workings where in1880 there was a significant fall when some of the waste slate fellonto the chamber below. Two weeks ago we spotted cracking on the bench.

Headded the closure was “purely a safety decision”, and nothing to dowith a massive fraud carried out by three former Welsh Slate bosses whoinflated sales figures with more than £10m of false orders.

Thefraud delivered a £40m blow to then-parent company Alfred McAlpine’sprofits, saw its share value plummet and led to the loss of 136 jobs atits three North Wales quarries in Bethesda, Blaenau Ffestiniog, and theNantlle Valley.

The Health and Safety Executive said thedecision to close Oakeley was taken by Welsh Slate and not by them,although they had been informed.

HSE spokeswoman Nadia Nuaimi said: “The decision to close wasn’t because we’d taken an enforcement action.”

MrSmith added: “Following investigations with independent safety expertsit was concluded there was an unacceptable level of risk to sitepersonnel.

“We have therefore decided to mothball activities in the quarry, and roofing production will cease at the end of April.

Noother operations or staff levels at Welsh Slate are affected. Currentorders will be unaffected and customers will have the option of buyingslate products from the company’s other quarries,

Cwt-y-Bugail, Pen yr Orsedd, Dyffryn Nantlle and Penrhyn.

MrSmith said options for re-opening the Oakeley Quarry would be reviewedin the near future but he didn’t want to build up any hopes.

Headded: “We deeply regret the mothballing of Ffestiniog (Oakeley)Quarry. However, the issues involved are beyond the control of theemployees or the company.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank the employees at Ffestiniog for their hard work in the past three years.”

AGwynedd Council spokesperson said: “The council has and will continueto discuss with the company how we can support those workers effected.”

ElfynLlwyd, Meirionnydd Nant Conwy MP, said: “I have spoken to the managingdirector who told me there were geophysical problems with the site.

“There have been a lot of cracks emerging on the benches, which indicates it could collapse and is very dangerous.

“I understand the Welsh Assembly have been doing everything they can to help and I will do whatever I possibly can.

“It is very sad indeed. This is not just about the closure of the quarry, it’s a blow to the town, and the history of the town.

“The local brass band is known as the Oakeley band and it grieves me to see this happen.”

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