A LONG-running battle to resist plans for opencast mining next to an isolated Northumberland hamlet could finally be approaching the end.
Local people and parish councillors in Halton Lea Gate, near the border with Cumbria, have been fighting the threat of coal extraction on their doorsteps for almost 15 years.
The most recent application – by HM Project Developments (HMPD) to dig 140,000 tonnes of coal over three-and-a-half years – was thrown out by county councillors two years ago.
But the scheme was then given the green light by the Planning Inspectorate last August, to the dismay of villagers and local Hartleyburn Parish Council.
Now campaigners have accepted that a potential High Court judicial review they had hoped to take against the planning inspector’s appeal decision will not be successful.
They have instead turned their attention to an application by HMPD to change its approved scheme, which would result in a slightly smaller working area and less coal being extracted.
If the application is approved by the county council, the way will be clear for work to finally start on the Halton Lea Farm site.
Yesterday parish council chair, Wendy Green, said: “We were pursuing a possible judicial review but it doesn’t look like that will now go ahead. We have been told we don’t have a case.
“The mining company has now put in an amendment to its planning permission, and we need to get people to respond to that. We believe they should have to put in a completely new application and go through the whole process again. We are still fighting this and have not given up.”
HMPD managing director, Paul Murphy, said: “My understanding is that the judicial review is not going ahead. It means the High Court feels our scheme is acceptable. We will now take it forward and try to work with the local councils and residents to deliver a successful scheme, which we have always planned to do.
“We are seeking a very minor change to the plans which will mean slightly less coal being extracted over a slightly shorter working period. That should result in any potential impact being reduced.
“As far as we’re concerned, we will be on site as soon as the boundary change is agreed.”
Northumberland County Council said the company has submitted a variation to its original application, involving a change to the working method and coal extraction to overcome access issues.
A spokesman said: “This would mean a reduction in the extraction of coal by 3,000 tonnes, and a reduction of three hectares in the operational site.
“We have considered very carefully the amendment to the scheme, and concluded that it is a valid application. It is expected to be reported to the September meeting of the planning committee.”
Halton Lea Gate, which is on the edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, was first threatened by opencast mining 14 years ago, when an application by developer Andrew Golightly was refused planning permission. A previous application by HMPD was defeated in 2010.