Paul Raglan, Managing Director Mining Searches UK
The UK once played a starring role in the production of valuable materials, from clay and tin, to stone and coal, and while the golden age of mining may long be over, the industry continues to leave a legacy on the land today. With an estimated 150,000 abandoned mines across the country, mines have the potential to impact today’s developers, property owners and purchasers, and knowing what’s underground can prove vital in both safeguarding investments and occupants.
With over £40 million in damages paid out to properties located in coal mining areas in the past decade, and with one third of UK buildings underlain by coal mines, the dangers presented by abandoned mines are an unwelcome reality for many, not only presenting a real danger to those which live above, from subsidence or partial collapse, but also potentially wiping thousands off a property or land’s value.
Often leaving little, if any, evidence on the surface, how can today’s property owners, developers, investors and buyers know that an area of land or building is safe? With many lenders and insurance providers now refusing to grant mortgages or offer financial support for properties located in known mining areas, it is essential to understand the risk presented by historic coal mines, as well as the importance of mining searches in not only mitigating financial and legal risks, but also in ensuring resident’s safety.
Mine workings commonly run long distances beneath the ground from mine shafts and extend beneath land and existing properties. If not properly remediated, these could collapse causing subsidence and damage to the building above, while environmental issues, such as soil contamination and harmful gas emissions, pose additional threats. With over 130,00 properties in the UK within just 20 metres of a mineshaft, it is vital that thorough risk assessments are conducted long before any formal exchange or construction takes place.
Today, closed mines are capped and filled to stabilise them and minimise risk, but older shafts were not always dealt with in this way. Cases of old mine shafts collapsing and causing damage to homes are regularly reported, and as well as being an obvious risk to safety can also dramatically reduce a property’s value. In 2015, a mine in the garden of a Cornish home collapsed, opening a sinkhole and wiping 75% from its value, and a home was also recently auctioned off for just £1 after unsecured mine workings were discovered beneath it.
Mining searches are essential for any piece of land to determine whether there is evidence of historical mining activity beneath it, or in the surrounding areas. This is even more important for buildings located in known historic coal mining areas, such as Bristol or Somerset, where the Coal Authority has a duty to investigate serious subsidence issues. However, there is no guaranteed financial support to address any issues presented by historic mining activity, with the responsibility often falling to the current owner – making it essential that searches are carried out early during any property or land purchase.
Conveyancers should also follow guidance and ensure that all appropriate searches are carried out in known mining areas during the early stages of negotiations. While not a legal requirement, mortgage lenders will likely insist that a search is undertaken when a mortgage is being obtained, and the Law Society also advises it, even in cases where no mortgage is required.
A CON29M report is a legal form set out by the Law Society to provide information on past, present and future underground and surface mining activity and is a mandatory requirement for properties located in coal mining areas. It is therefore crucial to employ the services of an expert mining search organisation, who will accurately assess and predict the risk posed by historic mining activity, while meeting the strict requirements outlined by the Law Society.
To put this into perspective, approximately one quarter of all UK residential property transactions require a CON29M report, with the search using all available data of the area in question – from historic archives, land records, town plans and maps – to produce a detailed report outlining the risks, as well as the steps required to address any identified issues.
Interpreted by industry experts, a CON29M Report ensures buyers and owners have a full and detailed understanding of the possible risks presented by past coal mining activity. Where significant mining features are identified, further ground investigation may be required to confirm any associated risks. In the worst-case scenario, where investigation confirms the presence of mining features, property can be rendered unsuitable for mortgage and available for cash purchase only, often with a commensurate drop in value – however results can play a key role in sales negotiations, if further work is required to solve any identified issues.
It’s essential that a trusted, expert organisation is used to carry out the search, and by having access to extensive data about all known mining areas and activities near a property, they will be able to provide an informed and thorough risk assessment – which is recognised and accepted by all major UK lenders.
The golden age of coal mining may be in the past, but UK mines are still a key consideration in today’s property and development market, and it’s important that homeowners and buyers understand the risks posed to not only protect financial investments, but also the lives of occupants. While searches can uncover unwelcome information, they offer reassurance that property is safe and secure, both now and in the future, and by addressing at the earlier possible stages, can save valuable time, money and heartache in the long term.