THREE people were arrested today as part of an ongoing police operation at the site of an opencast mine.

At around 6.45am, Durham Police were called to the Banks’ opencast site, near Consett, after access to the main gate was blocked by renewed activity.

A number of people attempted to block access to the site and two, one man and one woman, caused an obstruction by lying down on the road verge outside the site where they “locked on” to a device.

Both were arrested on suspicion of obstruction of the highway and offences contrary to the Trade Union Act.

A 32-year-old woman, from Brighton, and a man whose details have yet to be released remain in custody.

A 22-year-old woman, from Bristol, was arrested today on suspicion of aggravated trespass, arising out of an incident at the site on April 19, and also on suspicion of resisting arrest.

Chief inspector Richie Allen said “We are aware that this is an issue which polarises opinion.

“Over the weekend, around 30 mostly local people attended a demonstration near the site, which was good humoured, peaceful and had only a minimal police presence.

“However, today’s disruption is criminality and we will deal with it robustly, as we have in previous instances”.

Four people arrested at the site last month appeared before Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court today charged with aggravated trespass.

All four pleaded not guilty and were granted bail to reappear before the same court on May 17.

Since the protest started at the site, Durham Constabulary has arrested a total of 13 people for offences including aggravated trespass and assault, but none of those arrested have been permanent residents of County Durham.

It is the latest attempt to prevent Banks Group working on a new opencast development to remove 500,000 tonnes of coal from land between Dipton and Leadgate.

Another protestor, Anna Hawthorne, said: “New opencast coal extraction in the twenty first century is an insane idea.

“If this opencast is not stopped it would be both a local and a global injustice.

"Climate change is already killing people, and opencast coal hurts communities even at the point of extraction through black dust and diesel fumes.

“We've been inspired by the hard battle the local community has fought against this mine, and we are here to support their struggle for healthy communities and a healthy planet, above corporate wealth.”

Banks Group has planning permission, following a lengthy legal battle between UK Coal and protestors, but the company only has until June 3 to start removing coal from the land.

The activists intend to slow down Banks' preparatory work on the site so that the company falls short of planning requirements.

It is understood Banks has just over three weeks to complete roadworks and build an access road.

The Campaign to Protect Pont Valley, which set up a camp to block access to the land, claim to have already slowed down the work by six weeks.

Lewis Stokes, community relations manager at The Banks Group, says: "We can confirm that two protestors illegally blocked an entrance at our Bradley surface mine this morning, and we are grateful to Durham Police for their swift response and assistance in resolving this minor disruption.

"Government projections state that coal will continue to be an important part of the UK's energy mix until at least 2025, while the low sulphur, high quality coal contained within the Bradley site is vital for industrial processes, such as the manufacturing of cement and steel. 

"Supporting skilled North East jobs, delivering regional environmental and conservation enhancements, avoiding the carbon emissions caused by importing the coal supplies that the UK still needs and providing a secure domestic supply of energy by meeting our continuing need for coal through indigenous reserves is in the UK’s best interest, and makes far greater sense than relying on imports from potentially-unstable overseas markets such as Russia that are thousands of miles away.

"We are continuing to work with all the relevant authorities on the progression of our legitimate business operations at Bradley and remain grateful for their ongoing professional involvement and advice."