A NORTH-EAST mining firm predicts it will be the "last man standing" when the UK coal industry finally calls it a day in the coming decades.

The bold statement by the boss of Hargreaves Services is typical of the  ambitious County Durham business which has seen a remarkable growth since it underwent a management buyout eight years ago.

The Esh Winning-based company has gone from a turnover of £4m to a £280m group with interests expanding across the globe.   

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While powerhouses like UK Coal have foundered amid falling coal prices and the Government support for renewable and nuclear energy, the County Durham firm has gone from strength to strength; driven by an acquisition strategy which saw it last year snap up assets in Scotland.

Gordon Banham, Hargreaves' chief executive also believes the firms "North-East work ethic" has been a key part of its success.

"We all work damn hard here," he said. "We have to because this remains a very tough business.

"People have been writing this industry off for years, but for us it has been about growth, and it will continue to be."   

Mr Banham anticipates that the company will have a 70 per cent share of the UK coal market by 2025.

"As the remaining dominoes of the industry fall we will be there to catch them. We will be the last man standing, anyone with a basic understanding of the industry can see that."

Last year, Hargreaves, which also operates a transport division, secured a £42m cash injection from shareholders to fund the acquisition of rival mining operations from the likes of ATH and Scottish Coal, as well as develop new sites to increase production.

The move has seen it emerge as a major player in the UK, and given it the confidence to look further afield.

"There are very exciting opportunities in this industry, sadly most of them are not in our back yard," noted Mr Banham.

The opportunities in emerging markets are significant. Coal production globally is set to grow from five billion to seven billion tonnes over the next 15 years, and there will be a 50 per cent increase in the number of coal-fired power stations.

The Hargreaves group, which employs 500 of its 3,000 workers in the North-East, now has a base in Hong Kong employing 160, and teams in India and South Africa targeting opportunities.

"The benefits of coal seems to be something that our country has forgotten," added Mr Banham. "I can see the green argument for supporting nuclear and wind power, but the fact is that coal remains the cheapest way to generate electricity.

"As we develop carbon capture and storage the opportunity is there for us to use coal more efficiently and more cleanly.

"When I speak to clients in China they are bemused by the UK's attitude towards coal.

"They see as being integral to their future economic growth. I only wish our Government felt the same."