October 7, 2008

Shock As Opencast Pit Gets the Nod ; Hundreds Lose Fight to Halt Proposals


CONTROVERSIAL plans for an opencast mine next to a town were given the go-ahead today.

Hundreds of people objected to UK Coal's plans to dig up 600 acres of open land at Potland Burn, north of Ashington.

But members of Northumberland County Council planning and regulatory committee approved the proposals at a meeting in Morpeth today.

A year ago the council's planning officers said they were against the plan because it would damage regeneration work in Ashington and UK Coal withdrew their application and asked for time to rethink it, to the delight of its opponents.

Ashington lies in an official "restraint" area where the county council has a strong presumption against opencast mining near towns.

But two events have changed the planning landscape since then.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears approved a major opencast mine at Shotton, near Cramlington, which is also part of a restraint area, in spite of strong local opposition.

The county council was also forced to withdraw its new minerals framework document after a planning officer raised concerns about the proposed coal strategy.

A report to today's meeting of the planning and regulatory committee said the policy could no longer be relied on as a reason for refusing the Potland Burn site and, coupled with amendments that UK Coal has made to its application last October, the planners had little option but to approve the proposal.

Wansbeck MP Denis Murphy is among the objectors to the opencast and said it would be a "disaster"

for the town that would set back redevelopment work by years.

He called on councillors at today's meeting to reject the plan.

UK Coal says the company's proposals would create 65 jobs and a pounds 500,000 community fund to help local organisations and projects.

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