October 3, 2008

Experts to Have Say on Mine Bid ; Opencast Plan in the Balance

By Dave Black

FORMAL plans have been revealed to create an opencast pit near one of the region's most important landscapes. But leading heritage and conservation agencies are being consulted about plans to dig the mine in the Tynedale countryside before a verdict is reached.

A development company wants to extract 140,000 tonnes of coal from the 75-acre site near the hamlet of Halton Lea Gate - which is close to the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Six months ago 130 local people attended a public meeting when details of the bid by HM Project Developments first emerged, with the vast majority of them voicing opposition.

Now the company has submitted a formal planning application to Northumberland County Council to work the Halton Lea site over a period of three and a half years. Next week councillors will authorise the holding of a second public meeting and arrange a visit to examine the sensitive site at first hand. As well as being close to the North Pennines AONB, the location is in an area of special scientific interest and is an officially designated conservation and protection zone.

Planning officials are consulting Natural England, officers at the AONB, Northumberland Wildlife Trust and archaeology and ecology experts before making a recommendation to councillors on whether the scheme should be approved or rejected.

The Halton Lea site is next to the A689 road, 5km west of Haltwhistle and close to the Northumberland/Cumbria bord er.

People in Halton Lea Gate are worried that the mine will come within 30 metres of homes, create noise and dust problems, harm wildlife and have a negative impact on the spectacular local landscape.

Yesterday villager and chairman of the local North Pennines Protection Group, Nick Kennon, said: "We have been told there are nine million tonnes of coal in the Tyne Valley and we wonder if this scheme could open the door to others. An opencast mine is simply not appropriate in this beautiful area.

"If this happens we would look out of our windows straight at a mound and probably see the dumper trucks on the site."

The Journal was unable to reach HM Project Developments for comment.

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