Hundreds of homes, three churches, and a primary school are to be saved from collapse into the mines much of Bath was quarried from, Planning Minister Keith Hill, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced at Combe Down.
The £154.6 million grant, to be paid by English Partnerships – the Government’s national regeneration agency – over a period of five years, will stabilise the mines, saving the City of Bath World Heritage Site village from risk, as well as ensuring archaeologically important areas and bat habitats are protected.
Keith Hill said:
“This is tremendous news for residents of Combe Down and for this part of the World Heritage Site. I am delighted that people and their homes will be protected in the long term, and that important parts of our cultural and environmental heritage will be saved for future generations.”
The Combe Down Stone Mines near Bath are currently a serious hazard to 1,500 people and their homes.
Those homes, and other areas of open space and roads, have been resting on a thin crust of ground – in some places only a few metres thick – above deep underground cavities which were formed when the stone was excavated for the building of Georgian Bath.
Traffic vibration and climatic conditions have worsened the situation in recent years. Substantial emergency works, costing some £23m already, have been needed over the past three years, to stabilise the ground in the worst affected areas while a longer term solution has been explored.
Trevor Beattie English Partnerships Corporate Strategy Director said:
“This is excellent news for the people of Combe Down and a very welcome commitment of major new Government funding”.
Dr Bob Bewley, Regional Director for English Heritage said today:
“English Heritage is very pleased that English Partnerships are funding the works of this significant area within Bath City’s World Heritage Site. Combe Down Stone Mines has long been a serious hazard to residents and we hope this scheme will help to protect and preserve this important site and ensure its future.”
The proposed programme – subject to any final approvals required by the local authority – will introduce some 10km of underground “safe routes” to protect the land and properties above, as well as long-term bat routes and roosting and breeding sites for some of the largest and rarest bats in the UK.
Combe Down village and Combe Down Stone Mines are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC). They are one of the 20 top bat hibernation sites in Europe and 7th best in Britain.
The Greater Horseshoe Bat is one of the largest and rarest bats in the UK and is found only in southwest England and West Wales. The total UK population is about five thousand and the colony in Combe Down was in decline.
Construction of heated incubators within the mines has established the mines as a breeding habitat.
The £154.6 million grant will be managed through national regeneration agency English Partnerships’ Land Stabilisation Programme.
The proposed work on controlled infill stabilisation of the mines will be delivered through Bath and North East Somerset Council’s Combe Down Stone Mines Project Team.
The total amount includes the existing £22.7m which has been used for on-going emergency work.