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Friday, 24 October 2014

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Villagers in Whittonstall win opencast battle

VILLAGERS who have lived under the shadow of having a huge opencast site on their doorstep were celebrating this week.

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Campaigners warned the opencast site would scar the countryside.

On Wednesday, UK Coal confirmed it had pulled out of controversial plans for 208-hectares of land at Hoodsclose, on the edge of Whittonstall.

The application, first disclosed in November 2009, received 550 letters of objection, including 15 from parish councils.

Despite offers of a £1.25m community sweetener by UK Coal, the boundary of the opencast site – just 200 yards away from Whittonstall First School – angered many.

UK Coal went into administration last July. It indicated it had withdrawn the Hoodclose application, just days before it was due to be determined by Northumberland County Council, because of an imminent sale of the business.

Whittonstall Action Group (WAG) chairman, Kay FitzGibbon, said: “We are stunned and at the same time delighted at this sudden announcement. It is not what we expected.

“All we can assume is that UK Coal concluded that this application would be rejected and so chose instead to withdraw at this stage rather than suffer defeat.”

Resident Jo Holmes, a WAG member and Shotley Low Quarter parish councillor said the threat of the opencast site has blighted the area.

She said: “Now we can celebrate. It’s good news, not just for Whittonstall, but our neighbouring villages which would have been affected by a huge opencast too.

“We are claiming it as a victory for the whole area.”

Whittonstall First School governor and local county councillor Anne Dale added: “We are pleased that UK Coal has withdrawn. As a governing body we are responsibly for the safety of the children during school hours and had major concerns about dust, pollution and impact on highways.

“This is the second planning application for the removal of coal we have seen in this area and we hope there will not be another for the foreseeable future.”

UK Coal wanted to extract 2.2 million tonnes of coal and 500,000 tonnes of fireclay over an operating period of more than six years.

Whittonstall Parish Council chairman Coun. Elliot Taylor said he was pleased Whittonstall as well as villagers in Hedley-on-the-Hill, Ebchester and Riding Mill had been spared having to live next to such an intrusive development.

He was confident the application would have been rejected by planners because of its negative impact on the environment and tourism.

Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman said he was delighted at the news and heaped praise on WAG’s campaign of opposition.

Hexham’s prospective Labour candidate at the General Election Liam Carr said it was a victory for local activists, but warned that withdrawal rather than refusal could leave the gate open for future applications.

UK Coal’s director of surface mines David Bolton said the decision on the planning report would have finely balanced.

He added: “We still believe the scheme is a strong one, supporting jobs and the local economy with significant benefits to the community whilst also allowing the recovery of over two million tonnes of high quality thermal and coking coals.

“All of which will be given due consideration in the future.”

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