A COAL mining giant has vowed to plough ahead with a legal challenge so it can pursue a controversial opencast development despite no longer owning the land.

The Bradley site, near Leadgate, has been sold by UK Coal’s former property arm, but the energy firm has vowed to pursue a judicial review so it carry out surface mining operations.

It emerged days after news that the new owner, Strawsons Property, has also bought another potential opencast site, four miles away at Hoodsclose, near Whittonstall.

Plans to extract 500,000 tonnes of coal from the ground at Bradley generated of huge campaign of opposition from protestors who branded the scheme ‘environmental vandalism’.

Last February, planning inspector Stuart Nixon dismissed UK Coal’s appeal after its initial planning application was refused by Durham County Council.

Communications manager Gordon Grant said that ruling would be challenged at the High Court in June.

He said: “UK Coal Surface Mining can confirm that its former landlord, Harworth Estates, has sold the land involved in the Bradley planning application to a large, private landowning business with a primary focus centred around agriculture.

“It is entirely normal in the surface mining and wider quarrying industry for the applicant or operator to own the mining rights and not the land in this way.

“UK Coal Surface Mining retains the rights to mine the land and this transaction does not in any way change the planning application, including the restoration proposals, or commitments made to the community.”

Durham County Councillor Watts Stelling, who opposes the opencast plan, said the sale of land meant the long term future of the land was uncertain, regardless of whether mining is carried out.

He said: “I would not have thought it would have been agricultural land after it has been opencast.

“They may want to land bank it for the future, or may be looking to build houses on it. I am very concerned though and if, heaven forbid, their plan does go ahead, they are able to reclaim it to the same standard.”

The Strawson family, which has bases in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, has substantial farming, property, investment and development interests across the country.

Its farming business focuses primarily on food crops, but it has invested substantially in the biomass energy industry, supplying power stations, district heating systems, schools and homes.

No-one at Strawsons Property was available for comment when contacted by The Northern Echo.