VILLAGERS could face years of landfill tipping operations after ambitious plans to restore an opencast coal mine were sunk by a leaking lake.
Local people were promised a showpiece community park – including a 12-acre lake suitable for sailing, sub-aqua sports and fishing – when coal extraction ended at the mine near Pegswood, Northumberland, six years ago.
However the man-made lake developed a leak and has never filled up with water to the required level, despite an attempt to seal it in 2006.
It has left a half-filled hole with steep, sloping sides – and has prevented the opening of the final phase of the community park.
Now mining company the Banks Group wants to solve the embarrassing problem by tipping construction waste into the void in a bid to complete the stalled restoration of the 170-acre site.
Various options under the revised plan involve between two and seven years of landfilling, with up to 700,000 cubic metres of inert materials such as soil and rubble.
It will mean anything between 40 and 80 lorries a day visiting the site to dump their loads, depending on the duration of the operations.
The original lake scheme has now been abandoned, and the U-turn will result in either a much smaller and shallower body of water or a series of small ponds.
Banks has launched a public consultation exercise and is sending out leaflets to hundreds of local households setting out the various options and seeking views.
It says making a second attempt to seal the lake sides and base has been rejected as there is no guarantee of success.
Yesterday David Woodard, who represents Pegswood on the county council, said Banks should be required to stick as closely as possible to the original restoration plans, and keep any landfilling operations to an absolute minimum.
He said: “I do believe there is a degree of incompetence here that is unacceptable.
“I find it impossible to accept that a lake cannot be formed to the agreed final level, in its original location, within the original landscape proposals. It could be a shallower lake but not necessarily one that would require 350,000 cubic metres of fill material and two or three years to complete.
“The idea of opening up the site for landfill will simply exacerbate the existing problems of traffic in Morpeth, Hebron and the coastal route through Longhirst.
“In my opinion, Banks should forget these commercially-inspired plans and take expert advice on how to fulfil their obligations.”
Banks environment director, Mark Dowdall, said: “Much to our regret and concern, the original proposals for a lake in phase two of the community park have not been successfully implemented, despite our endeavours to rectify the position in 2006.
“We are not happy with it and want to ensure that it matches the standard of the rest of our restoration work. Our preferred option is to infill some of the void with inert materials and we are embarking on an exercise which involves sending out a leaflet detailing the various options.
“Landfilling is not something we have envisaged at Pegswood until now but, as a responsible company, we are not happy with the current situation and want to do the restoration properly.
“We don’t think the lake should just be left as it is now, and we would stress that no harmful materials will put into the landfill if it goes ahead.”