A SIX-YEAR-OLD boy with a chronic lung condition may be forced to leave the school he loves if opencast coal proposals on a village’s fringe are given the go-ahead.
Daniel Oxley may be unable to physically withstand the extra dust and dirt caused by excavations at Whittonstall, his parents say.
He suffers from potentially-fatal bronchiectasis, a severe obstructive lung disease, and needs the clean air that the rural Northumberland- Durham border hilltop village environment provides.
Now his worried parents, Neil and Emma, of Bridge Island, Shotley Bridge, are anxiously awaiting a planning decision in the next two months which will decide whether an application to dig 2.05m tonnes of coal from the Hoodsclose site adjacent to Whittonstall is granted.
UK Coal also wants to excavate 500,000 tonnes of fireclay from the 208-hectare site to the east of the village. Company executives describe Hoodsclose as an important and profitable commercial site.
But Mr Oxley said: “We are talking about a child’s life here. Why should a commercial operation change our child’s life?
“What price do they put on a child’s health?”
Mr Oxley warned that if the opencast mine is given the go-ahead “we shall have to remove Daniel from the school where he is happy and has made many friends”.
“And where would he go?” he asked. “This is a remote area and there are not many other schools to choose from.”
Daniel contracted bronchiectasis following a dose of double pneumonia when he was two years old.
The bronchi – respiratory air passages – become fragile and dilated, leaving the victim unable to effectively clear secretions.
Daniel has to spend three weeks in hospital up to five times a year and takes drugs before and during his school day.
Teachers at the school use a daily colour-coded card scheme to inform his parents how good or bad a day Daniel has had.
Consultants at Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary, where Daniel undergoes treatment, are now looking into the potential dangers of opencast workings near him.
A 1999 study led by Newcastle University Professor of Environ Epidemiology, Tanja Pless-Mulloli, found that children in opencast communities were exposed to a “small but significant” amount of additional “PM10” – particulate matter – to which opencast sites were “a measurable contributor”.
Mr Oxley added: “With so much heavy machinery and vehicles going to and from the opencast site, even if the dust levels are increased by just 10% it will have a detrimental affect on Daniel.
“Daniel is very happy at Whittonstall First School and one of the great things about the village for him is the clean air that blows across the open fields.
“But if opencast goes ahead, that will be lost.”
Under current plans for a seven-and-a-half-year dig, UK Coal would come to within 160m (175yd) of the school in the latter stages.
It is planned that excavations would begin over a mile away from the village in the initial stages before moving closer in the fifth and sixth years.
UK Coal has offered an £850,000 project fund to the school and a further £400,000 community fund to the village.
Simon Taylor, the surface mining director of UKCoal, said last night that he hoped to have a personal meeting with Mr Oxley.
“I have been waiting for contact details so that I can have a more personal discussion with Mr Oxley to understand more and to start to reduce the levels of concern and anxiety,” Mr Taylor said.
“We regularly have ongoing personal conversations on a whole range of issues that are specific to individuals.
“As this is clearly such a personal issue, it would be inappropriate for me to continue that conversation in public.”