AN application to open a large opencast mine has been refused amid fears about its impact on the region’s tourist industry.

UK Coal Surface Mines Ltd was seeking permission for a 123-hectare opencast, straddling the border between County Durham and Gateshead which meant it required permission from both authorities.

Earlier this month, Gateshead Council agreed for the proposal to go-ahead, but this afternoon members of Durham County Council’s planning committee went against officers’ advice and voted 10-2 to refuse the application.

The company wants to extract more than one million tonnes of coal and 175,000 tonnes of fireclay from the former pit site, now largely farmland between Stanley in County Durham and Marley Hill in Gateshead borough.

It proposed to extract the minerals over three years before restoring the site, the total “green to green” life of the project being four-and-a-half years.

The proposed site is close to the historic Causey Arch bridge and the Tanfield Railway heritage line, which would be extended by 2km as part of the restoration of the site.

UK Coal said the opencast would create 62 jobs and would have cleaned up contamination on the site, dating back to its deep mining days.

Richard Cory, of UK Coal Surface Mines, told the meeting the plan included “comprehensive restoration” measures and added: “UK Coal believes it has done everything possible to provide substantial ecological mitigation.

“Any harm done to the environment during operations is clearly outweighed by the benefits of the scheme”.

Several organisations, including the North-East Chamber of Commerce and Tanfield Railway Volunteers, backed the scheme. Ian Cowan, of Tanfield Railway, said: “We feel that the time has come for this area to be cleaned up once and for all”.

However, more than 90 residents wrote to the council opposing the scheme, including Ronald Harrison who told the meeting: “The work will turn what is currently a beautiful area which attracts visitors into a desolate mess for four years.”

The report said that, at its peak, 89 HGVs every day would go in and out of the site. Local Cllr Olga Milburn said incoming HGVs would have to pass two schools and the entrance to Beamish Museum to get to the opencast and added: “The movement of lorries through Stanley has the potential to seriously disrupt the lives of residents.”

Members of the committee overturned the officers’ recommendation.

Cllr Alan Shield said: “Tourism will certainly be affected in County Durham even if it is only for four years, including Tanfield Railway, Causey Arch and Beamish Museum. I see little or no benefit that we in County Durham would gain from this proposal.”

Cllr Carl Marshall: “It’s a gorgeous part of the world and it’s fine as it is. The community don’t want it and as far as I am concerned, the only people who are going to benefit are UK Coal.”