The site of the last deep mine in Wales to close is set to reborn as an adventure park.
Zip World, which has 11 adventures spread over three Snowdonia sites, will submit an application to develop a location in Rhigos, Rhondda Cynon Taf following a consultation period running until March 17, 2019.
This will be the first site for the business outside of north Wales.
Zip World has grown rapidly since launching its first superfast zip line at Penrhyn Quarry in Bethesda in 2013.
Over the past five years the company has contributed £251m to the north Wales economy, according a 2018 report from North Wales Tourism. They have created 450 permanent jobs, with 93% of the staff living locally.
Now it hopes that the plans for Rhigos – if approved – will allow Zip World to do for Welsh coal what it’s done for Welsh slate in north Wales.
The Tower Colliery closed 11 years ago.
Wales’ last remaining deep pit made national headlines in 1995 when workers defied the Conservative Government and used their redundancy money to buy the pit, making it the only mine in Britain to be owned by its workers.
British Coal had decided to close the mine because it believed it was too expensive to run. When the miners protested, they were told to give up and find other jobs. But they ignored both suggestions and, having negotiated a loan from a national bank, instead paid £8,000 each to buy the mine.
The closure came almost 14 years after they had achieved what seemed impossible.
But even after what seemed to many like the end of Tower in 2008, it lived on.
That was because officials at the colliery found there were around six million tonnes of coal close to the surface, and so began a huge operation to begin opencast mining at the 400-acre site.
Opencast operations began in 2012, but in March 2017, having mined 800,000 to one million tonnes of coal a year, Aberthaw Power Station in Barry announced it would no longer use Welsh or British produce due to its carbon content.
With its main buyer no longer in the market for its coal, Tower had to stop mining, around two years before it had planned to.
Sean Taylor, founder and CEO of Zip World, says: “This marks a huge milestone for Zip World and we’re enormously excited about submitting phase one of our brand of adventure to another beautiful Welsh landscape.
“A new and inspiring location for Zip World, we hope to build a world-class destination providing local jobs and significant economic benefits for the region, just as we’ve done in north Wales since opening in 2013.
“We’re confident our proposals are in the line with the council’s vision for the area and will continue to work constructively with them as we eagerly await the development of this iconic site.
“With our sites in Blaenau Ffestiniog and Bethesda, we have become synonymous with Welsh slate, now we hope to do the same in the home of Welsh coal and revitalise the area through extraordinary adventure.”
Zip World’s innovation has seen it achieve many notable firsts, including Velocity 2 being the fastest zip line in the world and longest in Europe, Titan as the largest zip zone in Europe and having the largest subterranean playground in Bounce Below and Caverns.
At the start of the year Lloyds Development Capital (LDC) took a minority stake in the adventure business.
Valuing the business at £45m, LDC bought out two of the shareholders and said it was providing a cash injection and additional expertise to expand the business further.
Mr Taylor, who kept his holding in the business, said he would continue to lead the adventure firm as it expands its attractions and looks at opportunities outside the region.
Plans for Zip World to travel south had been in the pipeline for a number of years, but it was about timing and finding the right site.
A spokesperson for Rhondda Cynon Taf Council says: “The decision of Zip World to submit a planning application, for consideration by our Planning and Development Committee, to develop a new adventure experience near Rhigos, is a positive endorsement of the tourism potential of our northern Valleys.
“It is encouraging that Zip World Ltd recognise the visitor potential of this location for a new Zip World venue, seeking to build a world-class tourist destination providing new local jobs and significant economic benefits for the region.
“This application demonstrates once again the tourism potential our valleys have to offer, thanks to their natural beauty and the strategic transport links which connect RCT to the wider region such as the A470, the planned A465 Dualling and the major plans under Metro.
“This proposal, subject to planning consent, would deliver one of the UK’s most successful visitor attractions to Rhondda Cynon Taf, a project which would further compliment other exciting tourism projects such as the Rhondda and Abernant Tunnels and future proposals for Dare Valley Country Park.”