CONCERNS have been raised about to plans to opencast a former coal mine and coke works.

UK Coal Surface Mining wants to remove more than a million tonnes of coal and 175,000 tonnes of fireclay from the land between Stanley and Marley Hill.

The site is near the Tanfield Railway, the world’s oldest existing railway and Causey Arch, the oldest surviving single-arch railway bridge in the world.

The energy firm submitted plans to Gateshead and Durham councils in December and claims it will clean up the former industrial site and remove contaminants while mining high-quality coal.

Stanley Town Council has told neighbouring Gateshead Council, which will determine the application later this year, it has concerns about the effect on road safety if it is approved.

The council’s clerk Russell Morgan said: “The planning application states there will be lorries carrying cement, blast furnace slag and pulverised fuel ash to the site for use in the reclamation scheme.

“Stanley Town Council comments that an inevitable increase on traffic overall will have an impact on road safety, pedestrians, vehicles and residents in general which must be given due consideration.”

Alan Thompson, treasurer of the Tanfield Railway, said the visitor attraction was not opposed to the scheme.

He said: “They are coming as close as they are allowed to but our engine shed will remain intact and they are not going near the original track bed.

“Hopefully it will improve the view for people travelling on the train when it is landscaped.”

UK Coal will work the 120 hectare site over four-and-a-half years.

UK Coal’s area planning manager Richard Cory said: “Fifty three wagons will leave the site Monday to Friday, half will travel along the A692 through Sunniside and half will travel along the A693 through Stanley.

“We design all our sites to ensure we are a good neighbour.”

The Marley Hill development follows controversial plans to create similar developments at Whittonstall, over the border in Northumberland, and the Bradley site, near Leadgate, which have generated huge campaigns of public opposition.

The Whittonstall development, which involves the removal of more than two million tonnes, is expected to be determined by Northumberland County Council this summer.

It is understood UK Coal is pursuing a plan to extract 500,000 tonnes of coal from the Bradley site through the High Court after an appeal against Durham County Council's planning refusal was dismissed following a public inquiry.