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Taylor Woodrow has issued a £16.5 million writ against British Coal Opencast over allegedly defective equipment at the Chester House site in Northumberland.The High Court writ claims £11.5 million damages plus £5 million interest.It comes at an embarrassing time for British Coal, whose opencast operations and land holdings will be a key element in the industry sell-off.Taywood was awarded the £30 million contract to operate the Chester House site in 1985, and expected to work there until 1996.But it alleges that a Marion 7800 walking dragline it was required to take on loan from British Coal was 'defective, unreliable (and) unfit for use economically in the performance of the contract' and that the job has been 'delayed and disrupted'.This allegedly caused extra expense for 'excessive maintenance and repairs' which could not have been foreseen when it took the contract.According to the writ, the original contract included a stipulation that British Coal Opencast would get an engineer's certificate of satisfaction that the dragline was in 'good and substantial repair and good and efficient working condition' so that it was safe and no risk to health when used properly.But the writ alleges 'breach of the express terms of the contract' because the dragline was 'not in good and substantial repair and good and efficient working condition'.And Taywood was allegedly 'requested to carry out excessive maintenance and repair'.A Taywood spokesman said: 'Normal contractual negotiations are proceeding. Due to the long duration of the contract and in order to secure our position we have been advised that it is necessary to institute and serve proceedings.'But he would not comment on whether the legal move was in any way connected with the imminent privatisation of British Coal Opencast.British Coal was unwilling to comment. CONSTRUCTION NEWS