Villagers angered by opencast plans

PLANS for potential new opencast coal sites which would see mining continue in Northumberland for many years to come were met with anger and alarm by villagers across the county yesterday.

PLANS for potential new opencast coal sites which would see mining continue in Northumberland for many years to come were met with anger and alarm by villagers across the county yesterday.

Nine sites containing more than 20m tonnes of coal have been included on a “wish list” drawn up by two mining companies in response to a major new minerals planning document being prepared by the county council.

Community leaders in some of the affected villages last night pledged a massive campaign of opposition if planning applications to work the sites are submitted by UK Coal and the Banks Group.

Two sites are already in the planning system including Shotton near Cramlington, where a decision is expected from the Government soon and which involves the creation of a 300m-long earth sculpture of a naked reclining female known as Northumberlandia. The other is Potland Burn next to Ashington, where county councillors are being recommended to refuse permission.

Others have only come forward more recently or involve reviving mining plans in areas where contentious applications have been rejected or withdrawn in the past.

UK Coal has included a 2.7m-tonne site at Whittonstall near the County Durham border – where a bid was rejected by the Secretary of State in the late 1970s – and a 7m-tonne site at Highthorn near the village of Ellington.

The five sites earmarked by the Banks Group include Cavil Head at Acklington, where the company withdrew an application in the face of strong local opposition seven years ago, and a 3.8m-tonne site known as The Cockles near Ulgham, an area which has seen opencasting for more than 30 years.

Other potential mines put forward by the firms include land near the Alcan aluminium smelter at Lynemouth and at Houndalee near Widdrington.

The nine sites have been submitted as part of the county council’s consultation process in drawing up a new minerals and waste development framework, which will regulate future opencast mining in Northumberland.

Last night Ulgham Parish Council chairman Bob Brind said villagers were up in arms at the prospect of The Cockles site being worked, after decades of opencasting at nearby Butterwell and Stobswood. He said: “There would be massive opposition to this and we have already asked for Ulgham to be included in a constraint area for mining.”

Cath Davidson, who chairs the CELL organisation representing the villages of Cresswell, Ellington, Lynemouth and Linton, said: “It looks like they are never going to let us regenerate and we are very upset about these opencast plans, especially people in Ellington who have paid quite large sums for their houses. We would definitely oppose these sites being worked because they will despoil even more of the countryside and never create the jobs which are promised.”

Sir Anthony Milburn of Guyzance Hall near Acklington, who was at the forefront of local opposition to the Cavil Head site in 2000, said: “We are aware that it is back on a list. There is still very strong feeling against it and there would be enormous opposition to any application.”

UK Coal spokesman Stuart Oliver said: “These are sites we have put forward to the county council where we will likely submit planning applications in the next four or five years. They are out for public consultation until October 29 and will go before a planning inspector at an inquiry next year.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Potential sites

Alcan Farms near Lynemouth (Banks)

Butterwell disposal point, Morpeth (UK Coal)

Cavil Head near Acklington (Banks)

The Cockles, Ulgham (Banks)

Highthorn near Ellington (UK Coal)

Houndalee, Widdrington (Banks)

Potland Barn, near Ashington (UK Coal)

Shotton, Cramlington (Banks)

Whittonstall near Slaley (UK Coal)

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer