Campaigners against plans for a major opencast coal mine near a rural village say they are perplexed and angry at a further delay in coming to a decision on the long-running controversy.
UK Coal wants to dig two million tonnes of coal and 500,000 tonnes of fireclay from land at Hoods Close near Whittonstall, on the Northumberland-Durham border. More than 550 people have written letters objecting to the proposed dig, which would last more than seven years and cover 500 acres.
UK Coal submitted its planning application to Northumberland County Council in December 2010 – and the Whittonstall Action Group (WAG) had been expecting planning committee members to make a decision this week.
However, the company has recently asked the council for time to submit further data on proposed dust control measures, meaning there will now be a delay in the decision-making process.
Yesterday WAG questioned why UK Coal is putting the brakes on its scheme when the company argues there is a pressing national need for coal.
Action group chair Kay Fitzgibbon said locals now faced enduring even more months of uncertainty, anxiety and planning blight.
“It is outrageous that more than three-and-a-half years after sharing their preliminary scoping report, two-and-a-half after making the application and a year after making additional and substantial submissions, UK Coal is still submitting data and holding up this decision.
“It seems as if they can just go on submitting evidence to strengthen their position. Why else would a company reported to be on the brink of financial collapse delay such a vital project?
“We can only conclude that it is UK Coal's belief that if the application were to be decided this week, as planned, that permission would be refused.”
Ms Fitzgibbon said the “rollercoaster” effect of continued delays in the planning process was taking a toll on the mental and physical health of local people. “There is something fundamentally wrong with the planning system in this country when decisions like this can blight communities indefinitely. Whereas the applicant can choose to appeal for non-determination after just 13 weeks, we have no choice other than to sit and wait and wait. How can that possibly be fair?”
Last night a UK Coal spokesman said it had asked the council to let it provide further information aimed at refining the proposed dust action plan.
“We hope to be able to provide that within the next couple of weeks. We understand that the council is also reviewing some of its own internal consultations.
“Hopefully, this will allow the application to go to committee as quickly as possible,” he added.
A council spokeswoman said planning officials were expecting more information from UK Coal about dust monitoring.
“We can’t say when the application is likely to go to committee until we have received this information and know the outcome of any consultation on it.”