CAMPAIGNERS opposed to opencast mining fear the decision to approve controversial plans in north Durham could have a direct bearing on other proposals.

UK Coal learned last week that planning inspector Kathleen Ellison had ruled in its favour following the second public inquiry in recent years after a lengthy legal battle over the excavation of the Bradley site at Leadgate, near Consett.

Steve Leary, of the Loose Anti Opencast Network, said the fact she had to take account of the National Planning Policy Framework, which deemed surface mineable coal to be a mineral of national importance, could pave the way for other schemes.

He said three outstanding proposals, including the 500,000 tonne Field House Farm site, near Pittington, the five million tonne site at Highthorn near Druridge Bay in Northumberland and the 130,000 tonne Hilltop Project site near Clay Cross in Derbyshire, would be affected.

Mr Leary said: “The ‘mineral of national importance’ argument, trumped any adverse amenity effects to be experienced by local residents as identified by the inspector, or indeed other environmental adverse impacts.

“As long as this clause remains in place and or as long a surface mineable coal is listed in the NPPF as a mineral of national importance it is possible we can expect approvals to be given for any other opencast mine application in England in the future.”

Mrs Ellison’s ruling now means the energy company can pursue its aims to remove 520,561 tonnes of coal, including 75,000 tonnes of coking coal, from the land.

Protestors have been fighting the scheme for years and had the backing of residents, Durham county councillors and North-West Durham MP Pat Glass.

The decision to overrule Durham County Council’s refusal of the plan was met with disappointment.

A further public inquiry is to be held in September over Hargreaves Surface Mining’s plans to opencast at a 56-hectare farmland site between Pittington and West Rainton.

Durham County Council’s planning committee refused permission to extract up to 514,000 tonnes of coal and 83,000 tonnes of fireclay over 26 months last June over concerns from villages about unacceptable noise, dirt, dust, traffic and light pollution as well as the impact on the countryside.

Mr Leary said: “The odds are really stacked against any person or group who make legitimate objections to new surface mine proposals.”