PROTESTORS opposed to the creation of an opencast coalmine in North-East countryside have vowed to fight on, despite failing the block the development at the 11th hour.

Durham County Council has said Banks Group has now activated the existing planning permission to extract coal from land near Consett, thwarting the efforts of environmental activists and residents.

Campaigners hoped delays caused by direct action, which included locking on to machinery resulting in many arrests, would stop work taking place.

But the authority has said the firm has met the requirements necessary, despite not completing an access road to remove coal from the Bradley site, which lies on the A692 between Dipton and Leadgate.

Protestor Anne Harris said: “The Campaign to Protect Pont Valley will continue to oppose Banks Group for the duration of their destructive development.

“Just because the destruction has started does not mean that we will go away, we live here and care more deeply about this area than Banks Group does about making money.”

Stephen Reed, the council’s planning development manager, said the planned removal of 500,000 tonnes of coal from the site was entirely legal.

He said: “The company is required to create a protected right hand turn onto the site but this is through a separate 106 agreement which does not directly affect planning permission. Although this work has not yet been completed, it is underway.

“Under the terms of the planning permission, the company cannot take coal off the site until the work has been carried out. As Banks is not exporting coal from the site and is also well on with completing the required roadworks, it would not be appropriate or an efficient use of resource for us to take enforcement action.”

Campaigners are concerned about the effect on climate change, the impact on the local environment and wildlife on the site.

Banks Group has said substantial amounts of coal remain essential for industrial processes, such as the manufacturing of cement and steel.

The company’s community relations manager Lewis Stokes said: “As with all Banks Group projects, work at the Bradley surface mine has been progressed in strict accordance with the requirements of its planning permission, and as Durham County Council has confirmed, all pre-commencement conditions set out therein were discharged as required.

“We are working to complete the road improvements required to allow for a new access from the A692 to the site to be formed, which we have extended to include repairs to damage on other local roads, and have put all possible measures in place to undertake it as efficiently as we can, to minimise disruption to local traffic.”