CONTROVERSIAL plans to create an opencast coal mine on the border of County Durham and Northumberland have been withdrawn.

UK Coal has been hoping to mine more than two million tonnes of coal over a seven-year period at Whittonstall, despite widespread public opposition, for four years.

But the energy firm has now withdrawn the application, a week before planners were due to discuss whether it should be granted.

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Kay FitzGibbon, chairman of Whittonstall Action Group, which opposed the plan, said: “We are stunned and at the same time delighted at this sudden announcement. It is not what we expected.

“We know that a meeting for councillors to decide the application was imminent and that their decision would be critical to securing UK Coal's short-term future.

“All we can assume is that UK Coal concluded that this application would be rejected and so chose instead to withdraw at this stage rather than suffer defeat."

The company was seeking to mine two tonnes of coal and 500,000 tonnes of fireclay from the Hoodsclose site on the eastern fringe of the rural village.

The company has said it still plans to seek a second public inquiry plans to opencast the Bradley site at Leadgate and pursue an application to mine land at Marley Hill, near Stanley.

The announcement comes on the same day that Durham-based coal producer Hargreaves Services withdrew from a process to offer a £5m loan to UK Coal to help its gradual shut down.

A spokesman for UK Coal Surface Mines said: “In light of the potential sale of UK Coal Surface Mines our planning application for Hoodsclose has been withdrawn.

“Although there were differing views to the scheme we acknowledge that the decision on the planning report was finely balanced.

“We remain committed to our future schemes, the Bradley site is set to go to a public inquiry and we expect this process to be completed in October 2014. Marley Hill’s planning process will commence in the near future and we expect to follow this through to the planning committee.”

The special meeting of Northumberland County Council’s planning committee, due to be held next Thursday, has now been cancelled.

A council spokesman said: “UK Coal has withdrawn its planning application to create a surface coal mine at Hoodsclose.

“The special meeting of the Council’s Planning and Environment Committee, due to be held on Thursday June 19, has now been cancelled.”