PLANS to expand operations at a County Durham quarry and safeguard scores of jobs for the next 30 years have been drawn up.

The owners of Eldon Quarry, near Bishop Auckland, want to expand the site to produce sufficient raw materials to feed production at its neighbouring brickworks until at least 2036.

The quarry has only about three years' worth of clay supplies left, and Terca Brick - part of manufacturers Wienerberger - has warned that if further reserves cannot be accessed, shale may have to be imported from elsewhere.

The company, which took over ownership of the site in September two years ago, said a substantial amount of money would be invested in the site if planning permission was given, and further jobs could be created in Eldon to expand the 42-strong workforce.

Formal plans for the quarry, which operates twice a year, are currently open for public consultation. If feedback is positive, an application could be submitted to Durham County Council before the end of the year.

Works manager Terry Watson said the expansion of the quarry was crucial to employment and the economy in County Durham and the North-East.

"These plans will really take us forward, and would really be excellent news for Eldon and those of us based at the brickworks. It could be the biggest thing that has happened here for a long time," he said.

"We really need to keep the factory operational and make sure jobs are kept safe, which is why we need this expansion to go ahead.

"The quarry is coming to the end of its life, and has only about three or a maximum of four years of reserves left. If we cannot keep producing here, we will have to look elsewhere for supplies.

"We really don't want to have to start importing shale, because that would add to the cost of raw materials and cause traffic disruption in the village. We want to keep production here.

"Terca and Wienerberger are looking to invest in the long-term future of Eldon and the factory. This quarry has been operating here for 100 years - we want to look at making that 100 more."