THREE communities are joining forces to fight controversial plans to dig opencast mines on greenbelt land.

Councillors and villagers from Pittington, Sherburn and West Rainton and Leamside are teaming up to oppose ATH Resources’ interest in mining two areas near Pittington, east of Durham City.

The firm wants Durham County Council to declare the two areas as strategic coal sites.

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It is believed up to 3.3 million tonnes of coal could be extracted, with jobs created.

However, villagers say the pits would ruin the landscape and cause disruption.

At a meeting held in Sherburn on Tuesday night, members of the three local parish councils agreed to work together to oppose any opencast mining in the area.

County councillor Carol Woods said: “I am really pleased that councillors from all the parishes that will be affected by these proposals have agreed to work together.

“We only have until February 14 to respond to the council’s consultation, so a joint effort will help make sure all our residents have a chance to know what is proposed and respond.”

Councillor Stuart Walton, chairman of Sherburn Parish Council, said: “The proposal will cause untold damage to our countryside and add to the traffic problems that we have in Sherburn Village and the other parishes.”

Councillor Sheila Smith, vice-chairwoman of Pittington Parish Council, called on residents to sign a petition which will be put into local shops soon.

Councillor Steve Percival, vice-chairman of West Rainton and Leamside Parish Council, urged people to attend a public meeting to hear what is proposed and have their say. It will be held in West Rainton Primary School on Tuesday, at 6.30pm.

An ATH Resources spokesman said: “ATH Resources continues to review a number of potential surface mine sites across the UK but has no immediate plans to progress any projects through the planning system within County Durham.”

Stuart Timmiss, Durham County Council’s head of planning, said the authority does not consider the sites to be strategic.

To have a say on the council’s minerals and waste sites policy, email: ldfconsult