MORE than 800 people have signed a petition aimed at saving open countryside on the outskirts of Durham City from being mined for coal.

Hargreaves Surface Mining wants to extract 500,000 tonnes of high-quality coal and 83,000 tonnes of fireclay from farmland known as Field House, between West Rainton and Pittington, near Durham City.

The work could last for more than three years and villagers are concerned about the noise, traffic and dirty they say the opencast would create.

Carol Woods and Maureen Wood, Sherburn’s county councillors, have been collecting signatures for a petition against the proposals.

The petition urges Hargreaves to stop considering the site and Durham County Council to refuse planning permission.

Yesterday (Wednesday, April 17), the two Liberal Democrats presented the petition to County Hall, Durham, and Hargreaves’ office, in Esh Winning.

Coun Woods said: “The opencast would be too near houses. It’s going to cause a lot of noise and traffic and it’s going to be dusty and dirty.

“It’s an inappropriate place for an opencast mine. It’s farming land and it should be kept as that. Opencasts should be a long way from settlements.

“We’ve had a huge response to the petition.”

Hargreaves has held several public consultation events in surrounding villages, although no planning application has yet been submitted. It is understood it could be filed within the next few months.

Previously, a spokesman said the contributions and interest of local people was absolutely vital as the firm went forward.

He said he had nothing further to add in response to the councillors’ petition.

Pittington Parish Council chairman Bill Kellett is also fighting the proposals, with help from the national Loose Anti Opencast Network.

Two years ago, the same site attracted interest from ATH Resources and UK Coal but more than 1,000 people signed a protest petition and no application followed.