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Monday, 25 May 2015

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Whittonstall tells mining giant to get out of village

STAY away from our land! That was the unequivocal message to opencast miners UK Coal from the people of Whittonstall this week.

Almost 300 people crammed into the small church hall at Snods Edge on Thursday for a public meeting to discuss the company’s plans for a 208 hectare surface coal mine in the unspoilt countryside at Hoodsclose.

Another 50 people were turned away, as passions ran high at what could be the final public meeting before Northumberland County Council planners make their decision.

The rich coal deposits in the area have been eyed hungrily by mining concerns for more than 40 years, but previous attempts to exploit them have always been rejected.

Durham county councillor Watts Stelling representing objectors from the other side of the county boundary, said: “This valley is not to be underestimated.

“UK Coal is trying to create a Bermuda Triangle of opencast mining, with Whittonstall, Bradley and Marley Hill in Gateshead, all on their radar.

“It talks of limiting the damage, but we don’t want any damage.

“I’m old enough to have been involved in this since 1972. There has to come a time when you stop applying and go away.”

Many concerns centred on the close proximity of the development to Whittonstall First School, just 200 yards from the site boundary.

Parents spoke of their fears for the health and education of their children, and the future of the school, with one parent even admitting they would remove their children from the school if necessary.

Neil Oxley, whose six-year-old son attends the school and suffers from a chronic lung disease, was angered by UK Coal’s assertion that the work would not affect the children.

“You are making a decision about my son’s future, I would like you to take that into account,” he said.

“I’m delighted you’ve said you would never hurt a child because I’ll be delighted to come to you for compensation if something happens.”

Many questioned the detrimental effect the seven-year operation could have, not only on the landscape, but also on the way of life for those living near the site.

Among them was nine-year-old Hugh Holmes, from Whittonstall, who told developers that he had asthma and feared the mine would ruin his way of life.

“I wouldn’t be able to do any of the things I love, I won’t be able to walk my dog by the field,” he said.

“It will wreck all of our habitat which will make me sad.”

Gavin Reay, owner of local pub, the Anchor Inn, questioned the impact the mine would have on local employment and said the threat of the mine had already cost him a booking.

Others argued that it would ruin their day-to-day activities, including horse riding and running.

Residents in Hedley-on-the-Hill, Ebchester and Riding Mill also added their voices of dissent to the argument.

Coun. Colin Horncastle, as ward councillor, said he would be speaking strongly against the application

“I’ve never seen anywhere else where a opencast is this close to a school, particularly a first school,” he said.

“I have weighed up both sides and it is the right scheme, but in the wrong place.”

Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman confirmed he would be urging the county council to reject the planning application after receiving over 100 complaints.

Members of Whittonstall Action Group called into question the need for indigenous coal, and also raised question marks over UK Coal’s financial stability.

In total, 466 letters of objection have been received by the county council – along with 228 letters of support.

The support letters have come mainly from businesses linked to UK Coal and employees at the company’s other sites.

Following the meeting UK Coal surface mining director Simon Taylor said the company would continue to work to allay concerns in advance of the planning committee.

He said: “We never say our operations have no effect, but we all sleep soundly knowing that we have a scheme that is sensitive to the people and environment around it.”