Lights out on 50 years of history at Ferrybridge

Ferrybridge C Power Station.
Ferrybridge C Power Station.

A coal-fired power station which has sat at the heart of the Knottingley community for half-a-century will close today.

Lights at Ferrybridge C plant went out last week, signalling an end to the site’s 50 years of generating electricity.

But today is the official closure meaning that around half of the remaining workers will lose their jobs. Others are expected to stay to complete decommissioning work during the next 12 months.

The closure comes just months after nearby Kellingley Colliery, the last deep-coal mine in the country, shut for a final time and hundreds of mineworkers lost their jobs.

Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper said: “At a time when we’ve lost skilled jobs at Kellingley as well, we need proper government plan to bring more skilled jobs to our area.

“Workers at Ferrybridge should be offered proper support to get new jobs too after years of keeping the power station burning and the lights switched on.”

Ms Cooper has fought to save the power station from closure alongside workers at the plant and trade unions.

She wrote to energy bosses earlier this month to ask them to reconsider a worker-led plan to keep the site running for at least another year.

Ms Cooper: “It’s deeply disappointing that people are losing their jobs at Ferrybridge especially when experts are warning there could be a shortage of energy supply next winter.

“SSE had enough coal already on site at Ferrybridge to keep generating energy for at least another year yet they have pulled the plug now and the government has stood by and let them.

“For twelve months we have been arguing with ministers and SSE and campaigning to keep local jobs as well the energy generation we need. But the government has no proper energy strategy and the entire energy market isn’t working properly.”

SSE announced last year that it would shut the station because the site was deemed to be “no longer economical”.

It said costs at the power station had been rising due its age and changes to environmental legislation, and it was forecast to lose £100m during the next five years.

Paul Smith, managing director of SSE, which has owned the power station since 2004, said: “It was with a heavy heart that we announced our plans to close Ferrybridge.

“Today is all about recognising and thanking those who have played their part over the years in Ferrybridge’s wonderful history and immense contribution to powering the nation. SSE is very proud of them and they should be too.”

Knottingley councillor Graham Stokes said the station’s closure will be a “major blow” to the community.

He said: “People are devastated. It has been there as long as people can remember and has provided employment and a good standard of living for local people.

“These people are now going to be out of work and looking for jobs.”

Some environmental campaigners welcomed the closure, despite the job losses.

Anne Harris from the Coal Action Network said: “We are pleased that this week the UK is moving away from unsustainable coal in shutting three of its 11 coal power stations including Ferrybridge. This will reduce the extensive damage caused to the communities in the UK, Russia, Colombia and the USA where the coal is mined to provide our electricity.

“Closing these coal power stations means that we will reduce our contribution to global warming. Although we are sorry that this means job losses for people working at these sites we feel that in balance this is the best outcome.”

‘Ferrybridge family’: a worker’s story:

Mick Gee, the plant’s Station Manager, joined Ferrybridge as an apprentice in 1977. As he leaves the site for a final time today, he tells his story.

“Ferrybridge has always been part of my life. We could see its towers from my childhood home and I’m the second generation of my family to work here.

“I arrived as a Craft Apprentice in 1977 and I finish as Station Manager almost 40 years later.

“Since becoming Station Manager in 2008 I’ve met some great people who are the real heroes of this place. So I want to acknowledge the amazing contribution from all those who’ve been part of the ‘Ferrybridge family,’ as we come to closure day.

“I also want to thank the local community for their support over the years. People have always valued our contribution to the local economy and our role within the community.

“We’ve always tried to adopt a ‘doors open’ approach whenever we can. One open weekend we hosted back in 1991 drew no less than 21,000 people. People often ask me why Ferrybridge is a special place to work and the answer is simple: the people. The culture here has always been one of ‘helping without asking’ and we’re all part of a big team rather than a collection of individuals. We know contractors like coming here because they know we keep them safe. It’s in our DNA.

“Ferrybridge has been an iconic landmark visible from the A1 or M62 or to pilots who use the towers to guide their planes home.

“But what goes on inside the site is what counts.

“At its height Ferrybridge employed well over 800 people and provided lifelong careers for many employees across generations. The camaraderie of working in close-knit teams on shifts at all hours of the day, or night, means people have forged lifelong friendships along the way.

“Thank you everyone at Ferrybridge C, past and present, for your contribution to 50 years of proud service.”