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pounds 32m project will help secure future of town.

Byline: SAM LISTER

ITS industry made it one of Cheshire's most thriving and prosperous towns.

But 200 years on, the four rock salt mines under Northwich have left a less than welcome legacy.

Fears that stretches of land could collapse if underground pillars give way have effectively put a stop to the area's economic development by forcing the council to impose strict planning laws.

Yesterday Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott visited the mines when drilling began as part of a pounds 32m land stabilisation project to secure the future of the town.

And, once completed, it will attract an extra pounds 50m in Government grants to the area.

Mr Prescott said: ``Northwich is thriving. Everybody is pleased that the mine stabilisation programme is going well. The town has a great future. It's excellent and we want to do our utmost to see it continuing.

``I think that we are creating confidence it's about the development of sustainable communities. ''

The project is believed to be the first of its kind in the world. The brine which presently fills the mines will be replaced with a mixture of pulverised fuel ash and cement.

Both the brine and the grout will be pumped via a new pipeline to a control site in Northwich town centre.

From that site it will be distributed to injection bore holes drilled into the four mines.

Without it, major investment in the town centre cannot go ahead.

Northwich's four rock salt mines Baron's Quay, Witton Bank, Neumann's and Penny's Lane were abandoned about 100 years ago.

They were flooded with brine to support them but signs they were becoming unstable were spotted in the early 1990s when there was movement at the surface.

The risk this posed to development has effectively halted significant investment and regeneration in the town centre area.

While the town's population has continually grown planning restrictions imposed have thwarted plans to attract business.

Part of the mines lies below Northwich town centre and two major supermarkets.

The pillars supporting the structure are made of rock salt which was adequate enough to cope at the time but the life expectancy of the pillars is unpredictable. If one collapsed it would have a domino effect causing massive subsidence on the surface.

Now experts are tipping Northwich's as the next `big investment and regeneration opportunity' in the North West.

Once the stabilisation programme is completed in March 2007 more than pounds 50m in government grants will be handed over to regenerate the town and fund new shopping and housing projects.

Euan Hall, English Partnerships' director for the stabilisation programme, said: ``The threat posed by these unstable rock salt mines to the centre of Northwich is very real and we have worked closely with Vale Royal Borough Council, its consultants and other partners to arrive at the right solution as speedily as possible.

``The stabilisation works will not only remove the physical threat that the mines pose but will open up new opportunities for development in the area. ''

CAPTION(S):

A digger at work in one of the working mines at nearby Winsford; John Prescott meeting contractors, left, a lump of rock salt, centre; and a documents store in one of the Winsford mines
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 1, 2005
Words:536
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