A MINING union is supporting campaigners opposed to the creation of an opencast coalmine in North-East countryside.

Protestors gathered at County Hall in Durham on Wednesday morning to demonstrate against the start of extraction operations near Consett, arguing conditions of planning permission are not being fulfilled.

The Banks Group plans to remove 500,000 tonnes of coal from the Bradley site, but is obliged to create an access road so it can be transported on the A692 from the entrance, which lies between Leadgate and Dipton.

Alan Cummings, secretary of Durham Miners’ Association, said: “The Durham Miners’ Association has opposed opencast mining for many decades and support the locally lead campaign to protect the Pont Valley.

“It damaged deep mining in the past and now threatens to ruin our environment for no perceivable benefit.

“Our communities have suffered enough with the decline of the coal industry and they do not need to have more injury added to insult.

“There are deep mining projects reopening in various parts of England. So, there is little need to rip up the countryside to get coal.

“We are opposing Banks Group’s destructive and divisive plans to destroy the Pont Valley for its own gain.”

Planning permission was initially rejected by Durham County Council, but the decision, which was upheld at two public inquiries, was overturned following a lengthy legal battle in the High Court.

Campaigners, who claim an environmental crime is being committed following the claims there are great crested newts on the site, camped at the entrance to site for almost two months to delay progress on the development.

The firm started working the land last week, before the creation of the access road.

Police, who have arrested 16 people during the ongoing protests, arrested a 23-year-old woman outside County Hall, during the demonstration on Wednesday.

She was arrested on suspicion of breaching court-imposed bail conditions by returning to the Banks’ opencast site on Tuesday.

Stuart Timmiss, head of planning at Durham County Council, has said the ‘necessary monitoring and scrutiny’ had been carried out by the authority to make sure the firm met the obligations necessary to implement the planning permission.

Lewis Stokes, community relations manager at The Banks Group, says: “Work at the Bradley surface mine is being progressed in strict accordance with the requirements of its planning permission, and all pre-commencement conditions set out therein have now been discharged.”