Coal mine plan sparks fury

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CONTROVERSIAL plans have been drawn up to dig opencast mines on the edge of Wearside.

A major mining firm has identified two green-belt areas either side of Pittington, on the Sunderland-County Durham border, as “strategic coal sites” with some 3.3million tonnes of economically extractable reserves.

The biggest, with an estimated 2.5million tonnes available, is to the east of West Rainton and across towards High Moorsley.

While they could create jobs and cut the need to import coal, critics claim having two new opencast pits would be a blot on the landscape and blight the lives of people living nearby.

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Opposition to any such developments is expected to be fierce.

Durham county councillor Carol Woods is believed to have called a meeting of all parish councillors whose areas would be affected, on Monday.

The mining company interest was revealed during consultations for part of the County Durham Plan, to devise an “overarching” strategy for potential future developments – including minerals and waste – up to 2030.

“One of the sites is a fair size,” said West Rainton parish councillor Ian Fawcett.

“People are starting to get agitated about this. It has come right out of the blue.”

It is believed that interest in setting up new opencast mines is to cut down on the country’s increasing reliance on importing coal for power stations.

This consultation includes a number of new operator proposed strategic minerals sites.

Of eight surface mined coal sites suggested in County Durham, only three have been specifically proposed by an operator as “strategic” coal sites.

They include Pittington North and Pittington South, both proposed by ATH Resources.

Pittington Parish Council chairman, Coun Andrew Sowerby, said the developer’s interest was worrying, and the village would oppose plans for opencast mines on the sites.

“It would cause tremendous damage to the environment, wildlife, as well as problems with noise, and create havoc on the roads.”

Despite fresh interest in opencast mining on the border with Sunderland, Durham County Council does not seem keen to label the Pittington sites as primary areas for opencast pits.

Head of planning Stuart Timmiss said: “The council has taken the view that all operator proposed coal sites are not strategic and are not essential to the delivery of the County Durham Plan strategy.

“Our view is that all surface mined coal sites which have been submitted to the County Council by the minerals industry will not be allocated at the current Core Strategy stage, but will instead be considered as allocations as part of the Minerals and Waste Policies and Allocations Development Plan Document and/or through the submission of a planning application by the operator.”

A spokeswoman for Doncaster-based ATH Resources said the company “continues to review a number of potential surface mine sites across the UK, but has no immediate plans to progress any projects through the planning system within County Durham.”