By Kali Lindsay
March 2, 2018 - A petition with more than 86,000 signatures against an opencast coal mine in Northeast England's County Durham has been handed to the Government.
Mining firm Banks Group plans to open the mine in Dipton, near Consett, and extract 500,000 tonnes of coal.
A petition was started by campaign groups Coal Action Network and 38 Degrees, calling on Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, to revoke planning permission for the site.
Scarlet Hall, of the Coal Action Network, said: “Today, the Government’s commitment to a coal phase-out will be tested.
“We know from our communities living near opencast all across the UK that these projects do not bring jobs to local people; instead they bring health problems and destroy much-loved natural habitats.
“So will Javid do right by local communities, or will he rule in favor of big coal?”
Resident Drummond Carr, who lives 300 meters from the site, said this was the last chance to stop the scheme going ahead.
He said: “Sajid Javid has the power to overturn this.
“He must not let half a million tonnes of coal be mined out of the ground despite the Government’s commitment to climate change.
“This is about much more than just us residents.
“It is going to have a huge ecological impact, damaging the community long term, and will provide no long term economic benefits.
“It will cause severe damage and will be a massive blight on the landscape.”
Carr said the opencast mine is not the same as those operated by generations of miners who helped power the industrial revolution.
“This is very different and will not provide any long term benefits,” he said. “This is a smash and grab job. They move from one site to another, take what they need then leave.”
Javid is currently considering whether to halt plans for another of Banks’ opencast coal projects near Druridge Bay in Northumberland.
Carr added: “It is on one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline. It is unimaginable and beggars belief why they would even consider doing it.”
Earlier this week, residents were left outraged after discovering trees and 200-year-old hedges had been ripped up to make way for a new access road.
Protesters climbed the last remaining tree and now, a ‘land protection camp’ has emerged, aiming to prevent the felling of trees by the mining company.
They will also monitor the planning permission constraint and report any breaches.
The camp, which consists of home-made tree houses in the last remaining tree, aims to delay Banks’ work until June 3 when the company’s permit will expire if work has not begun.
One of the land defenders said: “We are setting up this camp to support the communities of Pont Valley in protecting this beautiful countryside from opencast extraction.
“We have been met with warm hospitality from local to help us create the camp in these arctic conditions.”
Lewis Stokes, community relations manager at the Banks Group, said the views of those protesting does not reflect the community.
He said: “We are aware that a small number of individuals, many of whom have travelled from outside the region, have been holding a gathering in the vicinity of the proposed Bradley surface mine site this week, with a view to sharing often-illegal techniques for disrupting legitimate business operations, and do not believe their opinions are representative of the feeling across the wider community.”
Stokes said involving the community in their projects is a central part of the way they work.
This has included forming a committee to share information with locals, door-knocking sessions, delivering letters and using social media.
He added: “Many of the comments we’ve been getting on the doorstep from local residents have recognized both the importance of bringing new jobs and supply chain opportunities to the area, and the positive, long-term impact that the project’s community benefits fund would have on the facilities available to local people.”
He said the Government’s own projects state coal will be an important part of the UK’s energy mix until at least 2025.
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