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Memory as opportunity of future : conservation initiatives of coal mining legacy in NW Spain

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4:30 PM, Lundi 29 Août 2022 (20 minutes)
This paper explores the scope of the main heritage conservation initiatives undertaken in Spain's coalfields. It studies the role of policies to enhance mining heritage and the interest in industrial tourism as an alternative within the framework of the government's Fair Transition Strategy. The analysis focuses on the cultural initiatives proposed in the coalfields of Bierzo and Laciana regions located in the west of León. The decarbonization program promoted by the Paris Agreements and the socio-economic consequences of the closure of the last shafts (2018), along with the dismantling of power plants (2020) is a current debate in Spain. Furthermore, this process represents a demographic challenge in some regions. The new energy scenario redraws a bleak horizon for these territories which resisted the widespread rural exodus through coal monoculture and power plants display. The continuity of services and businesses sustained by the mining communities is today highly compromised. At this moment, there is not a clear economic alternative capable of reversing the demographic reduction of the segments of the working population that were seriously affected by the last economic crisis (2008-2017). The dismantling of mining facilities and power plants, along withtheir environmental recovery, are offered as modest and temporary employment alternatives, while "Fair Transition" projects are being designed and implemented. These strategies are aimed at offering a planned and environmentally sensitive social and economic alternative for these regions. Although mining heritage does not have an individual heading within this state-driven strategy, its role as a tourist resource is recognized. However, both processes overlap each other. Furthermore, the measures for heritage conservation of the different facilities affected by the closures are conditioned by the sensitivity of the regional and/or municipal regulations, and by the possibilities of offering viable uses. The coal and anthracite basins of Bierzo and Laciana regions (León, Spain) provide an illustrative example of this process. These regions used to be one of the most important coal mining areas in Spain as result of the state-sponsored energy policies. In the mid 20th century, Spanish rulers created a network of coal mines and power plants throughout the country which are now being shut down. The closure of the last pits and power stations is the last chapter in a long process of mining reconversion that has been going on for three decades. Since the 1990's, these territories were the object of important investments aimed at solving important urbanistic and social deficiencies, and resolving the serious environmental gaps derived from mining. However, the cultural dimension was not included in the political agenda until the 2000's. In addition to its character of recent legacy, local resistance to reconversion could explain, to a certain extent, the slow assimilation of heritage approaches in the local communities themselves, which has resulted in significant heritage losses. In 2007, and with government encouragement, a cultural and scientific project was planned around the City of Energy Foundation. This governmental project proposed a scientific-technical center to recover two of the oldest thermal power stations in Ponferrada to provide a "gate" for visitors to the "museum-territory", articulated by smaller-scale initiatives spread throughout the regions as an activation strategy. Unfortunately, the global economic crisis and changes in government resulted in a limited implementation of the most ambitious projects. However, the impulse of local communities and municipal corporations of small towns such as Fabero or Villablino have been able to carry out modest initiatives with strong resilient identities and to re-situate these regions in the national tourism panorama. Fair Transition investments offer the opportunity, perhaps the last, to promote a large- scale heritage conservation project in the Spanish coal basins.

Jorge Magaz-Molina


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