STUNNED villagers in a remote rural community have been told an opencast development on their doorsteps thrown out twice before can now go ahead.
Halton Lea Gate, in rolling hills on the Northumberland-Cumbria border, faces three-and-a-half years of coal digging after an appeal ruling in favour of opencast company HM Project Developments.
HMPD boss Paul Murphy fought Northumberland County Council’s refusal at a public inquiry after twice being turned down by county planners.
And Government Appeals Inspector Clive Sproule has now granted permission for the digging of 140,000 tonnes of coal at Halton Lea Farm on the west side of the village.
Mr Murphy failed to respond to inquiries yesterday, but in Halton Lea Gate shock at the appeal decision swept through the village.
Halton Lea Gate stands on the edge of the North Pennines AONB and within sight of Hadrian’s Wall and the Pennine Way.
The opencasting will take place only 17 metres from the nearest home in an area said to be home to endangered wildlife species and bird sanctuaries.
The village is up in arms at the potential disturbance the opencasting will cause, including traffic, noise and dirt.
Jeremy Ancketill, one of the leading anti-opencast campaigners, said: “I am shocked and astonished by the Planning Inspectorate’s decision.
“The residents of Halton Lea Gate have been fighting the proposed development for the past four years, during which time the application has twice been refused unanimously by our councillor representatives. Is this an example of David Cameron’s “greenest ever” government – the one which will protect the countryside and green belts, the one which will reduce the UK’s carbon emissions, the one which will promote renewable energy, and the one which will give local people a say in local decisions? I think not.
“In a supposed democracy, the wishes of the overwhelming majority have been sacrificed for the greed of a few.”
Mr Ancketill added: “If this development can take place within 200 metres of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and quite literally at the end of people’s gardens, is there anywhere in the country that is protected from development?
“Or should we just tear up the planning regulations and rule books, and accept that it can happen anywhere?”
Mr Murphy has pledged to create 26 local jobs and 10 haulage jobs, then restore the land and set up an equestrian centre in the village at the end of the workings.
After his plans were rejected in 2010, Mr Murphy submitted a new environmental impact assessment.
Mr Sproule said in his ruling: “The evidence in this case has failed to show that the appeal proposal would be unacceptably harmful to the landscape qualities of the AONB and the rural character of the locality.
“The levels of nuisance dust and the frequency that it would be experienced ... would not be sufficient to be unacceptably harmful to local living conditions. It has not been shown that the health of local people would be likely to be harmed by emissions.”
Mr Sproule also said the development met planning regulations and “would contribute to the strength and vibrancy of the wider community”.
Hartleyburn Parish Council chair Wendy Green said of the decision: “I cannot believe it, and I don’t think anyone else in the village can. I am distraught and flabbergasted.”
The villagers plan to call a meeting to discuss their next move, but cannot appeal against the ruling.
Coun Tom Brechany, executive member for planning, housing and regeneration at Northumberland County Council, said: “The county council is very disappointed that this new surface mine has been allowed in this sensitive location. The council will work closely with the operator to ensure that the development is carried out to the highest environmental standards.”