PLANS for a controversial opencast mine that requires the backing of two neighbouring authorities have cleared the first hurdle.

UK Coal Surface Mines wants to remove more than a million tonnes of coal and 175,000 tonnes of fireclay from a former coal mine and coke works between Stanley and Marley Hill.

Councillors at Gateshead Council have approved the scheme, but Durham County Council is not due to discuss the scheme until July 29 at County Hall.

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Anneliese Hutchinson, director of development and public protection at Gateshead Council, said: “The planning application was discussed at length by Gateshead Council’s planning and development committee with speakers both for and against the proposal addressing committee members.

“Councillors had previously made site visits to see first-hand its likely impacts on the surrounding area and how an open cast would operate.

“After careful consideration of the comprehensive report, and having listened to the views of all the speakers, committee members approved the application subject to a large number of planning conditions and a legal agreement which will help to ensure the environmental impacts are effectively managed and controlled.”

The scheme will take four-and-a-half years and the coal will be used to produce electricity at power stations while the fireclay will be sold to brickworks in the region.

The haulage of coal will be along A roads in the area towards the A1 and lorry movements will average six per hour.

Concerns have been raised about the impact it will have on the environment and ecology of the area as well as road safety.

The council received a 43 letters of objection as well as a 366 name petition but the scheme was recommended for approval by case officer Iain Armstrong and backed by members.

The energy firm recently withdrew plans to mine more than two million tonnes of coal and 500,000 tonnes of fireclay over a seven-year period from the Hoodsclose site at Whittonstall amid widespread public opposition.

The company still plans to seek a second public inquiry plans to opencast 500,000 tonnes of coal from the Bradley site at Leadgate.

Alison Reid, of UK Coal Surface Mines, said: “We are very pleased that Gateshead’s planning committee has recognised the substantial value and benefit of the Marley Hill scheme.

“The scheme will reclaim a 23 hectare derelict site and clean up 1.8 hectare of contamination.

“In addition, the scheme will provide 62 local jobs over four-and-half years bringing many economic benefits to the local communities.”