WITH the rise in metal prices making mining in Cornwall a viable industry once again, read one councillor's view on the dilemma of whether we should mine or 'manicure'

By Independent Cornwall Councillor for Truro (East) Bert Biscoe

Good news that Cornish tin has quickly become economic to mine. It is no shock to those who, like many Cornishmen all over the World, closely study the metals markets and geology. It offers an opportunity to rekindle skills and wealth generation and also to place Cornwall once again in the forefront of economic life – innovating, supplying, managing risk and prospecting. For many, this will end a century of frustration.

Of course, mining is a messy business. New techniques, such as those being developed at South Crofty, mean that much of the mess might be kept underground. Cornwall is rapidly coming to a point where, once again, it must collectively make a profound choice – do we manicure or do we mine? These days we all know much more about our environment, and therefore it will not be as easy to go adventuring as it used to be.

We already see a tension between heritage management and South Crofty. We also see at Crofty a new approach (for Cornwall) to mining – ‘total mining’. It is this approach which has identified the indium upon which Crofty’s new prospects are founded. There is an excitement stirring in the ancient Cornish consciousness.

There is, of course, an ‘however!’ In fact, two or three ‘howevers’!

Firstly, regulation and technology mean that any mining will have to operate within tightly constrained environmental parameters. This is part of the world of modern mining, but the costs of managing operations in light of regulation will require significant sums probably only available (as Crofty are finding) from international sources. Cornwall is a local sort of place – its towns are languishing most where pension funds and investment trusts own chunks of town centres, and we are like fleas in their circus!

It is important that Cornwall is in a position to ensure that it can clearly influence how things happen, where and when they happen, and that the version of the environment which we are protecting is that which is defined by Cornish voices – it is our values, our precious places, our priorities. We have always respected and worked around resonances and sensitivities – and we expect foreign speculators to respect them too, and to listen to what they are being told – whether they like it or not. Best if we develop our own operations. After all, in Nevada, it is the Native Americans who know where the water flows!

Secondly, we need to evolve a collective Cornish understanding of what the consequences of new mining are, and to consider what we are prepared to countenance. This is a process which the overly-arrogant and distant renewable energy industry would have done well to undertake, which would have avoided a social environment almost akin to civil disobedience in many parts of Cornwall. We are an ingenious people, adept at finding ways of achieving things which do not disturb the stones (I’m thinking here, amongst other things, of Messrs Wain and the Tristan Stone near Fowey) – unnecessary and unacceptable.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we need to think about the resources and the wealth. This is one of the poorest regions in Europe, and we sit on great wealth. Even when we were extracting tin and copper in amounts enough to fuel the industrial revolution, having fostered the Bronze Age, moved the agrarian into an industrial era, and having led technological innovation and developed the beginning of the global economy, we never gained sufficient wealth from all our resources to ensure that our people had a decent standard of living. That must not happen now!

If we are to see a renewed vigour in metal extraction then it is incumbent upon those who shape and invest in our economy to do what the Cornish singularly failed to do for five thousand years – ADD VALUE.

If you go to the wonderful streaming works at Blue Hills, near St Agnes, you will see the value of a tonne of tin being greatly increased by smelting on site (in small quantities, but this is a small enterprise), by attaching a premium value to Cornish Blue Hills tin, and by demonstrating for visitors how they do the job, what they get from it and what contribution it makes to our world. If they made things they’d make even more from that tonne!

With mining on the verge of making a Sinatra-like comeback, it is vital that Cornwall Council, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the Government ensure that the resources designated for economic development in this NUTS2 Structural Funds Region focus, amongst other things, on maximising Cornwall’s ability to gain value for as long as the resources last (a plea for sustainable exploitation – not a Klondike!). We have Camborne School of Mines, a great technical culture and skill-base, creativity, communication and transactional technology and a central position in the new world economy.

And don’t confine the value-adding priority to metals - there is not one ounce of Cornish china clay processed into any product whatsoever in any shed of any size anywhere in Kernow – why not? Why not, when we produce so much, it is so good and we have people, bright, tenacious and ambitious people, who can turn their hands and brains to it? Why do we, for as long as we have done these things, give away our wealth once we’ve dug it up, so they can get all the real benefit? Cornwall has a second chance – what will we do? Confidence, as all the gurus tell us, is the name of the game!