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Combe Down Stone Mines

Stabilising unstable and abandoned mines

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Combe Down Stone Mines Project is a stabilisation initiative south of the city of Bath, mainly underneath the village of Combe Down, North east Somerset.

The principle aim of the Land Stabilisation Programme (LSP) is to stabilise unstable and abandoned non-coal mining workings and to ensure the preservation of the health and safety of the area which has been achieved in Combe Down especially through exemplary project management and stakeholder engagement.

Background

Combe Down Stone Mines stabilisation project has been a £154.6 million land stabilisation project administered by Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) and the HCA which has saved hundreds of homes, three churches, and a primary school from possible collapse into the mines.

The extensive underground mining of limestone in the 18th and 19th centuries and the eventual abandonment and deterioration of the mines led to geotechnical advice that the mines had failed and posed a serious risk of collapse to the village of Combe Down.

The Combe Down Project Team though the appraisal process, established a base case and options, identified financial and non-financial issues, and developed and assessed a number of options, including the option of demolishing the whole village.

The successful multi-partner management of the site involved adapting an economic appraisal to include applying techniques for valuing the preservation of archaeological remains, built heritage, townscape and natural fauna (bats).

The process also involved action taken by B&NES to set up a Combe Down Stone Mines Community Association (CDSMCA) as an independent limited company to represent one voice for the Combe Down community.

Project

Problems with surface stability within Combe Down were first formally identified in 1986 when the underground mine workings were exposed by a contractor during excavation of a shallow trench.

An underground survey of the Firs and Byfield mine areas was carried out in 1994, commissioned by the then Bath City Council. It was found that approximately 80% of the mines have less than 6m cover and as little as 2m in some places. Irregular mining and robbing stone from supporting pillars has left the mines unstable.

Initial underground investigation revealed the poor condition of the mines, including ongoing collapse and progressive deterioration of rock pillars and the mine roof. Subsequent detailed investigation involved mapping and classification of the majority of the accessible areas, which indicated that the mine workings posed a hazard to life and property.

Given the significant impact that any mine collapse could have on the safety of life and property in the Combe Down area, an Emergency Works programme was initiated in 2001 by the local authority, Bath & North East Somerset Council.  The works focused on the reduction of immediate health and safety risks within selected high hazard areas beneath public highways, including a section of North Road.

The Main Scheme commenced April 2007.  The Main Scheme work involved the continued the concrete infill and roadway construction, but also focused on bat, archaeological and drainage issues. 

As part of the completion of stabilisation, surface verification is been required to establish that the concrete has reached the required levels within the mine. This has required drilling on the surface in various locations in the village, including gardens, drives and roads and has involved extensive engagement with the local community.

Throughout the process community engagement methods have included an Information Centre based in the centre of the village jointly staffed with community and project team members.

Regular newsletters that have had a circulation of over 1000 including to local businesses. Regular engagement with the local schools including presentations at school assemblies and ‘meet a miner’ days and frequent public meetings have been held in the centre of the village throughout the life of the project.

Impact

The Combe Down Stone Mines project has successfully:

  • Stabilised the mines below Combe Down to prevent further deterioration and collapse from threatening life and property
  • Set up a successful Combe Down Stone Mines Community Association
  • Undertook the project with a strong focus on incorporating good environmental management plans
  • Worked creatively and engaged residents within the overall project, in the commissioning of public art and in engaging residents at every step of the process.

Lessons Learned

The Combe Down Stone Mines project has been is an exemplar case study in:

Project Management – through the exceptional project collaboration of the multi-disciplinary team of stakeholders

Community Engagement – through involving residents throughout the working life of the project within the consultation and working processes, the public art works and the final project celebrations. 

Reference

 

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