A sprawl of concrete and steel structures dominated the landscape at Rawdon, south Derbyshire, in England's one-time mining heartland.
The graceless architecture was abandoned when Rawdon pit closed in 1990 and stood as a monument to a devastated local economy.
Rawdon is undergoing a £5.1M transformation. It is to be reborn as the centrepiece in the 520km2 National Forest, a scheme that will boost tree cover from a sparse 3% to 35%. Within 12 months the 47ha western half of the former colliery site will support the Millennium Discovery Centre - an avant-garde building which houses the National Forest administration and visitor information functions. Next to the main road, and screened from the rest of the site by massive earth walls, will be a raft of speculatively built, revenue-generating commercial space.
Nottingham-based engineering consultant IMC has taken on the task of turning the acidic soils, spoil and churned landscape left behind by decades of mining into an environment where plant, animal and human life alike will thrive. The firm has drawn on experience in the mining sector to push ahead with a fast-track remediation and landscaping programme.
Work with Chesterfield-based Coal Contractors started early last year and phase one - remediation, landscaping and construction of a new road into the site - is all but complete. IMC project manager Steve Nicholas outlines the task taken on: 'Generally, there is very little contamination on former coal fields. You only find coal and ash.'
On Rawdon West a platform of low-grade, sulphur-rich coal was found beneath a 50mm layer of iron pyrites where the commercial buildings were to be located. There were also pockets of coal slurry. Because coal generates heat when exposed to oxygen and can combust, it was necessary to dig it out and take it off site.
IMC found buyers for the 85,000t coal in the energy sector, a deal that just covered the cost of extraction and transport.
Excavation of the coal left ground in the 7ha area earmarked for the commercial buildings 8-9m below level which was built up with mudstone and seat earth found on site. IMC engineer Robert Richards says that, though work took place over a winter of heavy rains during which the site became known by workers as the Somme, consistency in the material being laid delivered good results. Extensometers have been placed to measure differential settlement, but he expects it to be minimal.
Nicholas points out that, with the exception of the coal, nothing has been exported from Rawdon West. Concrete crushed by subcontractor Burrows has been used on site in the construction of the new road and in the footings for the commercial buildings. And red shale created by the burning of slag has been stockpiled and will be laid to surface paths. Clay is being sourced at the north of the site to line a pond created at its south end.
As a pioneering brownfield development Rawdon has attracted its £6M funding from a range of sources. British Coal devolved ownership of the site to development agency English Partnerships; East Midlands Development Agency now owns the land. Client North West Leicestershire district council, Heart of the National Forest Foundation and English Partnerships have put up money.
The rehabilitation has also won grants from the Single Regeneration Budget, Mining Development Commission, European Regional Development Fund and the European Union's Rechar fund - set up to promote the regeneration of former colliery sites.