COUNCILLORS will decide whether a firm should be allowed to dig a controversial opencast mine on the outskirts of Sunderland.
Hargreaves Surface Mining has submitted a planning application to Durham County Council, requesting permission to extract up to 514,000 tonnes of coal and 83,000 tonnes of fireclay from farmland known as Field House, between West Rainton and Pittington, east of Durham.
A council spokeswoman has confirmed that the decision would rest with elected councillors on the strategic county planning committee, rather than planning officials acting under delegated powers.
No date for the committee meeting has yet been set, but it is expected to be some months down the line.
The mining would last more than two years, followed by years of restoration work.
Hargreaves, based in Esh Winning, near Durham, has been working on the proposals for months and a string of public consultation events have been held across the area.
The firm say the mining would create about 42 full-time jobs plus 18 seasonal jobs, provide opportunities for local businesses and result in an enhanced landscape with new woodland, hedges and grassland.
However, people living nearby are concerned about the noise, traffic and dirt they say the operation would generate and hundreds of people have signed a petition aimed at preserving the area as open countryside.
Although Hargreaves accepts there are some objections to its proposals, it also stressed the scheme would also benefit the area.
In documents submitted to the local authority, its agent Signet Planning stated: “Significant weight should be attached to the national, local and community benefits that would flow from the scheme, which would clearly help achieve economic growth and outweigh the likely impacts.”
Now that the planning application has been submitted, a period of statutory public consultation will take place.
Anyone wishing to find out more about or comment on the application should go to durham.gov.uk and search the planning portal.
Two years ago, the same site attracted interest from ATH Resources and UK Coal, but the proposals were eventually abandoned.