A COUNTY Durham firm will stay at the coalface despite “foolhardy” activists’ attempts to close a site, bosses have vowed.

Banks Mining says it has no intention of leaving its Shotton surface mine, in Northumberland.

About 25 campaigners, calling themselves Matt Ridley's Conscience, unfurled banners, blocked roads and allegedly chained themselves to a digger this morning (Monday, October 26), as they demanded coal mining be stopped to protect the environment.

The unrest forced Banks, which is headquartered in Meadowfield, near Durham City, and runs another surface mine near Newcastle, to pause production and its 150-job Shotton base.

Work restarted this afternoon (Monday, October 26) after the protest ended, with Northumbria Police confirming nine people were arrested.

The mine is on The Blagdon Estate, which belongs to Conservative peer and climate sceptic Viscount Ridley, and it is understood Banks still has around six million tonnes of coal to recover.

The campaigners included David Herbert, a retired mining engineer from near South Shields, South Tyneside, who said the country must look at renewable energy, such as wind turbines, and stop digging up fossil fuels.

However, Mark Dowdall, Banks’ environment and community director, said the demands were unrealistic, particularly as coal was still heavily relied upon for power.

He said: “We're very grateful nobody has been injured from these foolhardy and illegal attempts to disrupt operations.

“The fact remains around 30 per cent of the electricity we all used during 2014 to power our homes, businesses, schools and hospitals was produced through coal, and over 85 per cent of this came from overseas.

“Coal is and will remain a central part of the UK's energy mix for the foreseeable future.

“It makes far greater sense to mine our own reserves rather than rely on imports of coal and gas from potentially unstable overseas markets.

“Coal is also essential to the manufacturing of many everyday products, including carbon fibres, mobile phones and remote control units.

"It will play a reduced but important part of a secure and affordable transition to a low carbon economy.”

However, Mr Herbert rejected the claims, saying the UK must look at renewable energy.

He added: “Wind turbines are the future; it's the cheapest form of energy.

“Fossil fuels have massive subsidies, which distort the market, because they don't pay the costs of pollution and ill health.”

But Robert Downer, Blagdon Estate chief executive, said the mines were intrinsic to the region’s employment landscape, with the jobs they sustain put into sharper focus after the collapse of Redcar steelmaker SSI UK.

He said: “The surface mines based partly on Blagdon Estate land support more than 200 jobs, as well as many other businesses in the supply chain.

“The loss of several thousand jobs at SSI demonstrates the continuing importance of this type of large-scale employment to the North-East.”

Earlier this month, Banks submitted plans for a new surface mine in Northumberland.

The company says the proposals, for a development at Highthorn, could create at least 50 new jobs.