Further to my post last week, regarding the plans by The Ashtenne Industrial Fund Unit Trust to demolish Brownhills Business Park and construct housing, granted on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate, I’ve been looking into the history of the site in question. Initially, the land was the site of Walsall Wood Colliery, which ceased production in 1964. From then until the mid-1970’s, the former workings were used as a disposal receptacle for toxic waste by a company called Effluent Disposal Limited. A descendant company from the original operators, Veolia, still occupy the premises next door to the industrial estate in question.
In my searches, I found the following map and description of how waste disposal commenced and ended at the former mine. It comes from the excellent book ‘Coal Mining in Walsall Wood, Brownhills and Aldridge’ by Brian Rollins, published by Walsall Local History Centre (ISBN 0 946652 34 1). I obtained my copy on eBay.
If Brian Rollins is reading this, I’d be interested to hear his views on the matter.
Closure of Walsall Wood
Coal mining ceased on 30th October 1964 but the colliery remained open with a small team of men to salvage underground materials. No.2 Shaft was filled with mine waste from the mound which ran along side Coppice Road while No.1 Shaft was filled from the bottom of the pit at 1,635 feet below ground to a point just below the Top Robins Inset at approximately 1,144 feet down. The purpose of this was to prepare the shaft for the disposal of liquid trade effluent.
After the closure of Walsall Wood Colliery
Once the shaft was prepared for the disposal of liquid trade effluent, any effluent deposited down the shaft would enter the Top Robins inset and then access voids in the workings by migrating down from seam to seam via cross measure drifts. This process started in 1966 and the formal lease was granted by the National Coal Board to Effluent Disposal Ltd. on 19th July 1967. Use of No. 1 shaft was granted for 21 years. A second lease was granted to the same Company on 12th February 1968 for a term of 99 years from 1st January 1969 for the same purposes. However, some little time after the disposal started an implosion occurred which damaged the small cover erected over the shaft. This was caused by the 490 feet of fill above the pit bottom disappearing into the workings. It had become so heavy with liquid discharge that it lost adhesion to the shaft wall and breached pit bottom stoppings.
Sometime later when damage had occurred to the shaft lining which required repair, an explosion occurred in the shaft which badly damaged the pit top cover. The explosion was apparently caused when contractors lowered a light to inspect damage to the shaft wall.
Discharge of effluent finally ceased in the shaft on 28th March 1976 when the level of liquid rose to 991 feet below the shaft top. This was the level that had been set in the grant of planning permission and the permission from the River Authority. The brick shaft wall had become so affected by the liquid effluent being discharged that it collapsed. This collapse occurred in the Etruria Marls which then ‘spalled off from behind the brickwork and the whole fell down the shaft and created a plug, as no more effluent was able to pass into the workings.
The trade effluent was then put into old open brick quarries next to Aldridge No.1 and 2 shafts and was called the Mitco Lagoon. To remove this nuisance permission was granted to the Company to drill a borehole from the surface so that a way in to the various underground roadways in the shaft pillar and down to the Deep Seam horizon could be created. This proved successful and, some 33 million gallons were decanted from the . lagoon down the borehole in approximately 12 months.
In 1976 Effluent Disposal Ltd. lodged a planning application to sink a borehole on the Empire Site off Stubbers Green Road, Aldridge to gain access to voids in underground workings, and then to discharge liquid trade effluent down the hole. The application was refused but granted on appeal after a public inquiry. The hole together with 3 monitoring boreholes was drilled and the facility was used to discharge treated liquid trade effluent into the reservoir of old workings until 1990.
The guest speaker on this occasion was the CCMHS Chairman MR BRIAN ROLLINS, his talk entitled The Effluent Disposal Scheme at Walsall Wood Colliery after it’s closure or as Brian puts it “Coal to Crap” was a very interesting and informative talk. It was also a bit of an eye opener with quite a few facts being revealed about the lack of real control that was exerted by the local authorities on the actual type of effluent being deposited down the Walsall Wood shaft. Brian was at that period of his career Chief Area Surveyor for the NCB Western Area based at Staffordshire House Stoke on Trent and this dropped him right in the deep end, he knew the underground workings of Walsall Wood Colliery well as he had been head surveyor there before his move to Headquarters. He was made representative for British Coal who although they had shut and disposed of the Colliery many years earlier were still responsible for it. This meant that Brian was first in line for the Crap in the title. He dispelled the myth about the first explosion after the dumping of the effluent began, it was in fact an implosion down into the mine which took the conservatory type bubble building (constructed at the shaft top to stop the awful stench that was emerging out of the workings) down the mine. He also related how the only explosion in the shaft was caused by two workmen on duty at the shaft top lowering an extension light down the shaft to see if they could found out why the effluent was not seeping away into the workings. The extension lamp of at least 100 yards long was lowered down the shaft with the light switched off when the men though they were far enough down the shaft the lamp was switched on, it was concluded the bulb smashed and the resulting shorting, caused gasses in the shaft to explode blowing the pit top cover of tin and asbestos sheet over most of Brownhills and Clayhanger. It was good to be told that no heavy materials were ever dumped at Walsall Wood but it is also quite disconcerting to also be told that nobody really knows what actually was dumped.
What I find most alarming about this whole situation is that the Walsall Council Planning Committee considering the application for housing seemed unaware of the former usage of the site. Councillor Mike Flower commented to this effect on my initial post – which makes me wonder just what kind of records are held for the site, and just how the planning process works in relation to possibly contaminated land. Certainly, the Planning Inspectorate seem unaware of the history involved.
I’m concerned about not just the legality of developing housing on the former colliery, but the moral position of locating housing so near to such an objectionable, poisonous remnant. I find it rather disturbing that nobody involved – not Walsall Council, nor the developers Ashtenne, or even the Planning Inspectorate seem to have any knowledge of what exactly lies beneath this seemingly innocuous industrial yard. The council, who have always opposed this development, really should move to investigate before it’s too late.