Brightling mine is growing. The last time I wrote about this I mentioned that there was a plan to double production during 2018, and recently some parish councillors including myself paid a visit to the mine and learned a little more of these plans from Mr John Chow, the new manager. At the moment, nearly all the output from the Brightling mine goes for cement manufacture. It is transferred to the Mountfield plant along the conveyor belt, and then goes by lorry to Rugby where it is made into cement. The plasterboard factory at Mountfield gets all its raw material (gypsum) from Spain; it arrives at Mountfield by train. This rather roundabout situation arose because previously the raw material for plasterboard was desulphogypsum (DSG) – a by-product of coal-powered power stations (it is what you end up with when you use lime to clean up the flue gases). The relatively rapid and steep decline in coal means that DSG is no longer available in the necessary quantities, so the immediate solution was to import gypsum from Spain. The gyspum is there in large quantities under Brightling, but you can’t suddenly start producing it overnight: planning and investment are required. That is what is now going ahead. A total of £3m are to be invested, of which about £1m is going into the mine infrastructure and equipment. 11 or so additional jobs will be created (there is currently a vacancy for an electrical apprentice by the way).
What will be the impact on Brightling? we asked. Not an awful lot from what we were told, but there are a couple of things that people might notice. The conveyor belt (which takes all the output from the mine) will run for longer hours. It can shift 250 tonnes per hour and total output will be 1000 tonnes per day. So that is at least 4 hours per day of conveyor belt running: in practice probably more like 6 – 8 hours. The underground ventilation is being reconfigured so that one of the vertical ventilation shafts (out in the countryside) will change from being an inlet (sucking air in) to being an outlet (blowing it out). Under certain weather conditions, this might be visible.
The intention of the plan is that the Mountfield plasterboard factory should be getting about 40% of its raw material from the Brightling mine. They did not say so, but one could infer that there is scope to push this percentage higher in the future, so one might guess that there could be further expansion to come. In its heyday, in the 1970s and 1980s, the mine was producing around a million tonnes of gypsum a year, so this is certainly a possibility.