SURFACE mine workers facing unemployment have accused councillors of ignoring the economic benefits of opencast developments in the North-East.

Staff at UK Coal spoke out as the energy giant revealed it is considering appealing the decision to reject controversial plans to excavate land in the region.

Durham County Council refused an application, which already had the backing from the neighbouring Gateshead authority and was recommended for approval by planning officers, citing fears about the impact it would have on tourism.

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The 123-hectare opencast at Marley Hill, near Stanley, would have safeguarded jobs for over 60 staff for the next four years.

But UK Coal workers currently employed at Park Wall North, near Tow Law, County Durham, are facing a future on the dole when work at that site ends in early October.

Driver David Innes, 63, from Annfield Plain, said: “The reason they gave for rejecting it was tourism. I don’t know whether they have been to Stanley Front Street, but I don’t see many people going there for their holidays.

“I live in the area and I have never seen a tourist, except for at Tanfield Railway and they are behind the scheme.

“They are high paid good jobs affecting over 60 families. No-one at County Hall was listening.”

Mr Innes said the supply of British coal to UK power station makes up 40 per cent of the electricity used and makes the country less reliant on imported fuel from Russia.

Senior supervisor Dennis Nichol, 63, from Crook, said: “This has occurred because the councillors in Durham are anti-opencast. Their mind was made up before the meeting started. They did not look at the application as a whole.”

Driver Steven Thompson, 37, from Tow Law, said he, his wife and three daughters rely on his wages and may have to move if he does not find more work.

He said: “It is devastating. Our region is built on coal and by rejecting this application they are putting families on the dole.”

The company wanted to extract more than one million tonnes of coal and 175,000 tonnes of fireclay from the former pit site at Marley Hill.

Alison Reid, of UK Coal said: “We have got six months to appeal and it is likely we will.”

The company is taking plans to develop the nearby Bradley site at Leadgate to a second public inquiry in October and is considering re-lodging an application to work the Hoodsclose site at Whittonstall, which was withdrawn from Northumberland County Council earlier this year.