Confusion as UK coal sells land ahead of Whittonstall opencast hearing

THE OPENCAST firm bidding to dig over 2m tonnes of coal from a scenic site on the Durham-Northumberland border has sold the land just weeks before a decision is due.

THE OPENCAST firm bidding to dig over 2m tonnes of coal from a scenic site on the Durham-Northumberland border has sold the land just weeks before a decision is due.

UK Coal has sold the 208-hectare Hoodsclose site near Whittonstall village to a private landowning business – but insists there is no change in its excavation plans. However, campaigners fighting against the seven-year dig say the sale raises “a great deal of speculation and deep concern”.

The Whittonstall Action Group (WAG) claims that if permission is granted, the value of the land would rise due to royalties to be paid to the new owners, while the move also heightens worries over UK Coal’s business strategy and financial viability. Now WAG wants Northumberland County Council to press for a “watertight” financial bond to guarantee full restoration of the site at the end of the dig, should permission be granted next month.

Campaigner Val Barnes said: “Why UK Coal has chosen to sell the land just before the planning committee convenes remains a mystery.

“WAG considers that there is now an even more urgent need for Northumberland County Council to insist upon a watertight financial bond, so as to guarantee full restoration of the site following coal extraction.”

A county council spokesman said UK coal would be responsible for implementing the restoration scheme.

Simon Taylor, UK Coal’s director of surface mining, confirmed the Hoodsclose sale but did not disclose a price. UK Coal, which also wants to excavate 500,000 tonnes of fireclay from the site, has pledged extensive restoration upon completion, and offered £850,000 to the village school for a “positive project”, plus £400,000 to a local community project fund. A decision on whether to allow the dig is expected to be made at county planning level next month.

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