Villages join forces to fight Whittonstall opencast plan

HUNDREDS of residents braved wintry weather to crowd into a remote village hall last night and tell planners and UK Coal: We don’t want an opencast mine here.

HUNDREDS of residents braved wintry weather to crowd into a remote village hall last night and tell planners and UK Coal: We don’t want an opencast mine here.

The meeting at Snod’s Edge village hall, on a quiet country road outside Shotley Bridge, County Durham, left nobody in doubt of residents’ views.

People from half a dozen villages spoke out against the plans by UK Coal to excavate 2.05m tonnes of high-grade coal from a 208-hectare site at Whittonstall, on the Northumberland-Durham border.

It is feared the seven-and-a-half-year dig will destroy life in the isolated community, with up to 63 wagons a day leaving the site and noise and dust pollution inevitable.

And Hexham MP Guy Opperman said he would urge Northumberland County Council to reject the planning application. He told the meeting attended by council planners and UK Coal representatives: “I have had 100 people contact me to say they oppose the opencast and four in favour.

“The cumulative effect has to be taken into consideration.

“This application is remarkably similar to one at Bradley, on the County Durham side of the border. That was rejected by a planning inspector, although UK Coal are now appealing.”

He told the meeting his government was discouraging an over-reliance on coal for energy.

UK Coal representatives were unable to assure the meeting that, should the county council reject this application they will not appeal.

The company’s director of surface mining Simon Taylor has pledged that everything possible would be done to mitigate the effect if the application gets the go-ahead from the county council next month.

Objectors came from both sides of the county border, with residents of villages such as Ebchester and Medomsley in County Durham saying they would also be affected by the proposal.

Durham County Councillor Watts Stelling said: “UK Coal have been trying to mine this site since 1972. When they are turned down they simply appeal, and appeal again.

“They are trying to create a Bermuda Triangle of opencast mining, with Whittonstall, Bradley and Marley Hill in Gateshead all on their radar.”

And Northumberland County Councillor Colin Hardcastle said: “This is a fine scheme ... but in the wrong place. I will be speaking against it when the application comes before the planning committee.”

Parents of children at Whittonstall First School spoke of their fears for their children. The dig would, in the latter stages, come within 160 metres of Whittonstall First School, to which UK Coal has offered £850,000 to develop facilities.

But mother-of-three Jill Anderson said she feared the school would close if the mining application was granted, because parents would choose to send their children elsewhere.

And governor Peter Kemp called for the county council to give a guarantee that the children’s health would not be affected if they were going to approve the scheme.

Other objectors included horse-riders, walkers, joggers, anglers and the proprietor of The Anchor Inn, Whittonstall’s village pub.

Anchor Inn owner Gavin Reay said: “We have already had one wedding party ring to cancel due to the threat of the opencast, and that is before an inch has been dug.”

Residents of Hedley, a hamlet on the opposite side of the proposed site to Whittonstall, also said their outlook and quality of life would be ruined if the opencast went ahead.

Journalists

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