ACTIVISTS fighting to stop a controversial opencast mine from going ahead have set up a ‘permanent’ camp on the contested site.

Environmental protestors from across the country, supported by local campaigners, pitched their tents in sub-zero temperatures at the Bradley site, between Leadgate and Dipton.

The move came as a 86,000 signature petition was handed to to Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, calling on him to use his powers under the Town and Country Planning Act to revoke permission given to The Banks Group for the surface mine.

The petition was started by campaign groups Coal Action Network and 38 Degrees, citing the Government’s commitment to be an international leader in ‘powering past coal’.

The ‘land defence camp’ blocks the proposed access road to the mine. Activists say say they aim to prevent the felling of trees and to delay Banks’ work until June 3 when the permit will expire.

Scarlet Hall of the Coal Action Network said: “Today the government’s commitment to a coal phase-out will be tested. We know from our work with communities living near opencast all across the UK that these projects do not bring jobs to local people.

“Instead they bring health problems and destroy much-loved natural habitats. So will Mr Javid do right by local communities, or will he rule in favour of big coal?”

Resident Julia Triston said: “We hope Sajid Javid does the right thing but since he continues to ignore us we have to find other ways of defending the site.

“My neighbours and I fully support the land defenders and will do whatever we can to sustain the camp.”

Mr Javid is expected to announce his decision within days about whether to halt another of Banks’ opencast coal project at Druridge Bay in Northumberland.

Lewis Stokes, community relations manager at The Banks Group, said: “We are aware that a small number of individuals, many of whom have travelled from outside the region, have been holding a gathering in the vicinity of the proposed Bradley surface mine site this week, with a view to sharing often-illegal techniques for disrupting legitimate business operations, and we do not believe their opinions are representative of the feeling across the wider local community.

“Many of the comments we’ve been getting on the doorstep from local residents have recognised both the importance of bringing new jobs and supply chain opportunities to the area, and the positive, long-term impact that the project’s community benefits fund would have on the facilities available to local people.”

“The Government’s own projections state that coal will continue to be an important part of the UK’s energy mix until at least 2025, and substantial amounts are also essential for a wide variety of important UK industrial processes, such as the manufacturing of cement and steel.

“Coal has been used to meet more than a quarter of the country’s energy requirements during the recent spell of cold weather, which clearly demonstrates the importance of its use as an essential and resilient part of a balanced mix of energy generation sources over the medium term.

“As a North East business which operates both surface coal mines and onshore wind farms, we’re pleased to be continuing to contribute to meeting the UK’s energy requirements through using indigenous means of production during this very challenging time.”