UK Coal pulls Hoodsclose opencast plan at the eleventh hour

UK Coal has withdrawn its bid to mine over two million tonnes of coal over a seven year period on the outskirts of a rural Northumberland village

View from near Whittonstall towards New Ridley
View from near Whittonstall towards New Ridley

The opencast firm bidding to dig over two million tonnes of coal from a scenic site on the Durham-Northumberland border has withdrawn its planning application the week before a decision is due.

UK Coal last night announced a dramatic u-turn on its plans to create a surface coal mine at Hoodsclose, near the picturesque village of Whittonstall.

A special meeting of Northumberland County Council’s planning committee, due to be held next Thursday, has now been cancelled.

The company was seeking to mine 2.05m tonnes of prime coal and 500,000 tonnes of fireclay from the Hoodsclose site on the eastern fringe of the rural village, over a seven-year period.

Plans from UK Coal were first lodged with Northumberland County Council four years ago.

A spokeswoman for UK Coal told The Journal last night: “In light of the potential sale of UK Coal Surface Mines Ltd our planning application for Hoodsclose has been withdrawn.

“Although there were differing views to the scheme we acknowledge that the decision on the planning report was finely balanced.

“We still believe the scheme is a strong one supporting jobs and the local economy with significant benefits to the community whilst also allowing the recovery of over two million tonnes of high quality thermal and coking coals.

“All of which will be given due consideration in the future.”

The announcement comes on the same day that Durham-based coal producer Hargreaves Services withdrew from a process to offer a loan to UK Coal to help its gradual shutdown after it went into administration.

“It is with regret that Hargreaves announces today that, despite the efforts of the stakeholders, it has not been possible to secure a plan that it is able to support,” the company said in a statement.

Hargreaves Services had been in discussions to provide UK Coal with a £5 million loan to help manage its gradual closure.

Ministers agreed to a £10m loan, alongside £10m from the private sector, to support the “managed closure” of the UK Coal mines at Kellingley in North Yorkshire and Thoresby in Nottinghamshire, as well as a sale of surface mines in Northumberland, Shropshire, County Durham, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

Together the sites employ 1,300 people and they are to be wound down by autumn 2015.

Campaigner Val Barnes said: “For four years we have worked professionally as a campaign group and have met every week to make sure our objections were always heard.

“We have written some very detailed reports to the council. Finally, tonight, we have seen all of our hard work pay off.

“Pupil numbers have dropped at the local school and people’s health and wellbeing has been put at risk whilst this has been hanging over us for so many years.”

A spokesperson for Northumberland County Council said: “UK Coal has withdrawn its planning application to create a surface coal mine at Hoodsclose. The special meeting of the Council’s Planning and Environment Committee, due to be held on Thursday June 19, has now been cancelled.”

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