With less reliance on fossil fuels and a push towards more sustainable energy, it seems the life span for coal as an energy source is reducing around the world. In fact, a recent article*1 in the Observer newspaper questioned whether we are facing the imminent end of Coal as an energy source in Britain.
Looking back through history, UK coal production was around 70 million tonnes a year in the mid-18th century and grew to a peak of just under 300 million tonnes by 1913 according to the UK Government figures. Residential use of the fossil fuel has however largely ended and just eight million tonnes was reportedly used by UK industry in 2019, with only two million supplied from UK sources.
Today, UK mining has virtually stopped, having fallen from 3,000 mines at the peak to just 13 now, with coal representing approximately five per cent of overall annual energy usage.
From the heights of the industrial era, coal production instead leaves behind a significant and long-lasting legacy that will continue to have an impact on the country, well into the future. Ground stability poses a real hazard for properties located over or even near mine workings for decades to come and is important to consider when transacting properties.
In 2019*2 however, almost a quarter of all residential property transactions were located in coal affected areas. On top of this, over 10 million properties across GB are said to be located in a coalfield area, meaning lawyers have a duty of care for clients – and the lender if a mortgage is involved – to ensure related risks are investigated, to limit future claims against professional indemnity.
While areas such as Wales, Lancashire or Yorkshire may be considered to have been the country’s primary mining areas, a great deal of mining activity has taken place across the country, so doing research into related risks is recommended.
I spoke to Phil Huddleston MRICS, a Director of PinPoint Coal Ltd and former Head of Mining Information at the Coal Authority to discuss what lawyers need to consider when undertaking ground stability due diligence on property transactions:
“Mining coal below the ground can cause subsidence. With deep mining this lowering of the surface takes place over a relatively short period of time. This can manifest itself as tension or compression strains resulting in damage to buildings or quite simply a lowering of the surface and no damage at all. Shallower workings do not consolidate in the same way and the impact of these can continue for much longer, representing a continued present-day risk.
“When buying a property in an affected area, purchasers should be encouraged to look at mining reports to see if there have been any claims on the property, and if there have, to satisfy themselves that any damage has been repaired.
“They should also look to see whether the property has ever been notified under Section 46 subsidence legislation as this is a good indicator that the operator of the mine thought there would be subsidence.
“If we look at one example, in Coventry, a colliery worked under the town of Coundon. We can see that the area affected at the surface by mining activities is in fact much greater than the area of coal itself, which people are often unaware of. We call this the ‘Zone of Influence’ (ZOI) and determining the ZOI is a complex three-dimensional calculation based upon the depth and slope of the workings, together with the surface terrain.
“Due to the multiple angles, directions and depths often involved, it is not sufficient to simply create a ‘buffer’ around a mine. These complex calculations are important and take into account a huge amount of data, which enables us to assess ground stability risks associated with mining activities with a very high degree of accuracy.”
Obtaining a Coal Mining Report enables prospective purchasers to be made aware of the risks and in this particular case to see whether there is any history of damage – including where a claim has been made, or even been rejected.
The new Landmark Coal Mining Report – powered by PinPoint – provides all the standard answers required by the Law Society together with (as appendices) additional information about mine entries and claims when they are reported. The reports are supported by professional opinion from a Chartered Minerals Surveyor.
While coal mining may be largely condemned to the history books, its after-effects leave behind a lasting legacy that certainly means it shall not be forgotten, and cannot be ignored.
- Landmark Information Group data: Over 10 million properties across GB are situated in a coalfield area – this equates to 27.4% of all properties in Great Britain. In 2019, 23% of property transactions took place in a coal affected area according to transaction data analysed by Landmark Information Group.