October 8, 2008

Coal Town Loses Its Fight on Opencast

By Dave Black

PLANNING controls imposed on opencast mining in south east Northumberland were in tatters last night after a second site was approved in what was previously an official no-go area for the industry.

County councillors approved the extraction of 2 million tonnes of coal from 600 acres at Potland Burn on the edge of Ashington, despite the site lying in an opencast constraint area where mining is actively discouraged.

A year ago the Government allowed a plan to dig 3.4 million tonnes at 750-acre Shotton site, near Cramlington, despite it also being in the south east Northumberland opencast constraint area.

The area was designated in a county council blueprint to protect urban regeneration and inward investment from the threat posed by opencast mining.

Yesterday councillors were told the Government's decision at Cramlington meant the policy could no longer be relied on as a basis for refusing UK Coal's application at Potland Burn.

Northumberland's whole approach to opencast mining is now being re-examined in the light of concerns raised by ministers and planning inspectors about the concept of constraint areas.

Planning and regulation committee chairman Coun Paul Kelly said the policy of protecting south east Northumberland towns from opencasting had been "shot below the waterline" by the Secretary of State's Cramlington decision.

Former county councillor David Nicholson, representing Wansbeck MP Denis Murphy and hundreds of local objectors at yesterday's meeting in Morpeth, said: "The real concern now is that we will have a free-for-all on open casting in the south east of the county."

Councillors yesterday voted 8-4 to approve the Potland Burn site, after Coun Kelly said it could cost the county council up to pounds 400,000 if permission was refused and UK Coal successfully appealed.

A year ago planning officials recommended refusal of the original proposal. Yesterday they said the Government decision at Cramlington - coupled with changes made by UK Coal - meant refusal could no longer be justified. The decision disappointed hundreds who have opposed the UK Coal plan, but delighted a group of opencast workers who turned up at County Hall to support it.

Retired mineworker Kit Miller, 83, whose home in Woodbine Terrace, Ashington, is 250m from the site, said: "I am disgusted at the decision and the county council just doesn't take any notice of people. They appear to have made this decision on legal grounds.

"The lives of hundreds of people will be severely affected by this mine. I object to the despoliation of a lovely, natural landscape and to Ashington becoming a dirty, dusty town again after the council has spent tens of millions of pounds on regeneration.

"I freely admit to being a Nimby, because this site is in my back yard and I don't want it."

UK Coal surface mines manager David Bolton said: "We have revamped this application to deliver a much improved scheme. There is a lack of proof that regeneration in Ashington will be affected and the scheme will provide job security and opportunities."


MORE than 600 people in Ashington signed letters objecting to UK Coal's scheme to dig two million tonnes of coal and 500,000 tonnes of fireclay from the Potland Burn site over almost six years.

They say the operation will harm the landscape and wildlife, cause noise and dust problems and harm regeneration and job- creation efforts in the town.

The application was supported by more than 400 letters from opencast industry workers and their families, as well as mining supply companies and co ntractors.

UK Coal says the mine will create 65 jobs and produce valuable coal for the Alcan aluminium smelter at Lynemouth and its power station serving the North East. Yesterday's meeting was told the company will sign a legal agreement not to seek extensions which would prolong the site's working life.

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