Protesters step up Whittonstall opencast mine fight

CAMPAIGNERS have renewed their fight against a proposed opencast mine on the outskirts of a picturesque village.

CAMPAIGNERS have renewed their fight against a proposed opencast mine on the outskirts of a picturesque village.

The long-running application by UK Coal to mine two million tonnes of coal at Whittonstall, Northumberland, close to the border with County Durham, has moved a step closer.

Northumberland County Council has requested further information about the mining group’s proposed scheme at Hoodsclose, which would see coal extracted over a period of almost seven years.

Now that this additional information has been supplied to the county council, Whittonstall Action Group will be holding a public meeting in the village church on July 7 to re-ignite its opposition.

The action group regards the Hoodsclose application as a test case not only for Northumberland but for the wider North East.

It believes that if the opencast were to go ahead, it could open the floodgates to future developments across the Tyne/Derwent watershed and beyond into the wider Derwent Valley.

Action group chair Kay Fitzgibbon said: “We’re urging everyone to come along and find out first-hand what is happening with this application, to learn what changes have been made to the original application and to find out what the valid reasons for objecting are. Those present at this meeting will have every opportunity to ask questions and discuss the application.

“The weight of local opposition to opencast development strongly influences the outcome of any appeal. In the Bradley Inquiry Report, which was published earlier this year, the Government inspector states that the local view must carry significant weight, even in the appeal situation.

“The voice of the community really plays an enormous part in, and is pivotal to, the decision-making. We must fight this application vigorously before it is too late.”

Progress on the Hoodsclose application has been on hold while UK Coal prepared its findings, which include the benefits of its opencast development to the local community, possible environmental effects and measures to protect the local first school.

The county council is now poised to send out letters to residents and consultee groups for their comments.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman is being kept informed on the progress of the application and is also aware of the mounting local opposition to the scheme.

In his own recent letter to the county council’s chief executive, Mr Opperman stressed how important it is for planning officers to understand fully the impacts of the Government’s new Localism Bill in assessing such an application.

He said: “The whole point of the coalition Government’s approach to localism is that local people should have a real influence on how their local area is managed, developed and run on all levels from housing to planning. I would encourage everyone affected, whether resident or business owner, to get informed and have their say.”

In 1978 and again in 1984, plans submitted by the National Coal Board for a large opencast mine near the village were rejected following protests.

In 2009, more than 200 people turned out at the Anchor Inn in Whittonstall to view draft proposals for the latest opencast and to form an action group against the plans.

UK Coal has said that the scheme would provide up to 80 jobs and give access to coal that equates to the annual energy needs of around 1.5m homes.

The firm has said that it would restore the site with miles of new hedgerow, 150 acres of woodland, ponds and marshland with a 10-year nature conservation management programme.

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