19 Jul, 2013/ by Homeward Legal /Buyer, First Time Buyer, Sale & Purchase

When you are buying a house, your conveyancing solicitor may say it is necessary to carry out a mining search. The purpose of this search is to find out if there is any likelihood of mining activity having been carried on beneath the property you are looking at or in the nearby area.

Buyers often question why it is thought necessary to make a mining search when there is no sign of any mines having existed in the area. The answer is that when mines are closed, they leave little or no evidence on the surface but can still cause major problems for property owners.

Why is a mining search important?

Mine-workings often run long distances underground from the mine shafts and extend beneath residential properties. When old tunnels and shafts cave in, this is likely to cause subsidence and damage to buildings above the mine.

Old mine shafts were often not properly capped or filled in when the mine closed. Cases are reported regularly of old shafts collapsing, causing damage to houses as well as being dangerous for residents.

There are also environmental issues associated with old mine workings - for example, spoil may have been dumped over a wide area that can contain dangerous naturally occurring elements such as arsenic. Water flowing through an old mine may become contaminated and cause soil contamination in surrounding land, while explosive gases can still build up in abandoned coal mines.

Past mining activity may reduce a property's value

The value of a property can be severely reduced if it is discovered that it is potentially affected by mining activity or that mining activity could take place in the future. This is also likely to affect buildings insurance premiums.

Consequently, your conveyancing solicitor will recommend buyers have a mining search carried out if a property is in an affected area. Mortgage lenders will insist on such a search when a mortgage is being obtained, and the Law Society advises it even when no mortgage is required.

In fact, there is no such thing as a comprehensive mining search, as there is no single register of where mining has taken place. Many minerals have been mined by underground workings in various parts of England and Wales, going back to pre-Roman times, but the existence of many mines has not been recorded.

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Coal mining searches

Coal has been the most commonly worked mineral, with mines having existed in many parts of the country. Fortunately, the Coal Authority has fairly comprehensive records of where coal has been mined, as well as surveys showing where coal seams are known to exist. A coal mining search can be made to discover what information there is relating to the property.

Although it is well-known that coal mining took place in some areas, in others, its previous existence is less commonly known. So, if your conveyancing solicitor says a coal mining search is necessary for a property in, say, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Kent or Lincolnshire - or even parts of Devon - he or she has not taken leave of his senses, as coal has been mined in all these counties.

A coal mining search will provide information on the following:

  • past, present and future underground coal mining;
  • mine shafts and adits;
  • coal mining geology;
  • past, present and future opencast coal mining;
  • coal mining subsidence (damage notice/claim/method of discharge of any remedial obligations/stop notice/request for preventive works);
  • mine gas emissions;
  • incidents dealt with under the Authority's emergency surface hazard call out procedure.
  • Additional advice may also be included where appropriate, depending on the mining circumstances.

While there is little underground mining being carried on at present, coal is still being worked by open-cast mining. This involves stripping the soil and rock overlying a coal seam, removing the coal, then reinstating the land. Such work will be carried on over a large area and involves heavy earth-moving machinery. The coal mining search will show if any such activity is planned in the vicinity of a property.

One of the benefits of having an official coal mining search carried out is that it includes insurance cover against any loss of value (up to a maximum of £50,000) attributable to any material change of any of the information in a subsequent search report from that contained in the report to which the insurance attaches. This cover is in addition to any right to claim compensation for subsidence.

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Searches for records of tin and other mines

Tin and other metal ores have been mined in parts of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset for many years. Although there is no single register, a number of companies have compiled extensive records of old mine workings. When buying a property in areas where tin is known to have been mined, a search can be made with one of these companies to ascertain whether any mining activity would affect the property.

A potential problem for homebuyers in areas of the south-west of England is something known as mundic. This is a form of concrete in which waste rock or spoil from old mines was used as aggregate. The chemical content of the waste reacts with the concrete over time and causes it to degrade and lose strength.

While a tin mining search will not itself indicate whether a property contains mundic, if the search reveals existence of former mine workings in the locality, a mundic survey may be recommended. In some cases further testing will then be necessary.

Salt mines and brine-pumping in Cheshire

Salt has been mined in Cheshire for hundreds of years, and one mine is still in production. Salt is also extracted from beneath the ground by a process known as brine-pumping.

These pumping operations cause cavities to form below ground. If they collapse damage may occur to buildings on the surface. Unlike most other forms of mineral extraction such as coal mining it is not always possible to precisely define the areas which are likely to be affected by subsidence due to natural brine pumping or to attribute the cause to a particular pumping operator.

Because of the difficulty of ascribing liability to any particular pumping operator, a single compensation scheme was established. When acting for homebuyers in the relevant area, a conveyancing solicitor will initiate a search with the Cheshire Brine Subsidence Compensation Board (the Brine Board) that will indicate whether:

  • the property is situated within the statutory compensation district;
  • the property is within a Consultation Area prescribed by the Brine Board;
  • a Notice of Damage has been filed in respect of the property;
  • if so, whether the claim was accepted and how it was discharged.

Elsewhere in England and Wales, other metal ores and minerals have been worked, either by underground or open-cast mining. Stone slate and clay have also been extracted by underground workings in some areas. Although there is no central register of such workings, a number of expert companies have compiled records and can supply information on properties in affected areas.

Your conveyancing solicitor will be able to advise whether a mining search is required and the type of search needed. The cost will depend upon the type of search and the supplier; coal mining searches currently start from £30. In some cases, a combined mining and environmental search can be ordered, which will be cheaper than having separate searches.

Your solicitor will also be able to advise on the results of the search. In most cases, a search will not reveal anything to worry about but does provide peace of mind, as well as assurance to your mortgage lender and any future buyers. However, in a few cases, it may be necessary for a more detailed survey to be carried out.

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