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Thursday, 28 May 2015

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Whittonstall: War of words over mine support letters

THE company bidding to open a huge opencast site at Whittonstall has come under fire for getting hundreds of its own employees and contractors to hand in letters of support.

Over the past few days, Northumberland County Council has been swamped by 226 letters of support for the application – the majority coming from UK Coal workers across the country. Fewer than 10 of the identically worded letters – viewed by the Courant this week – came from addresses in Tynedale.

Before being inundated with the letters between January 7 and 14, the council had received only two items of correspondence in support of the controversial Hoodclose development.

A spokesman for campaigners against the opencast plan said the letters demonstrated UK Coal’s concern at the overwhelming opposition to its plans.

“The facts speak for themselves. Before this counter offensive by UK Coal, the ratio of letters was 449 against and two for.”

UK Coal denied orchestrating the influx of letters, but said it was common practice for employees and contractors to show support for applications in this manner.

UK coal director Simon Taylor said the letters were no different from a petition and were the “easiest way” for employees to express their view.

“The most common question employees ask me is when is the next site coming up. They are happy to do what it takes to show their support.

“I don’t see how someone writing to oppose at the last minute is any different from writing to support it now or six months ago.

“We respect everyone’s right to object. People should respect our right to put the scheme forward.”