THE decision to allow a controversial opencast coalmine to open in the region is being taken to judicial review in the New Year.

Dame Beverley Lang, a High Court judge, has ruled that campaigners opposed to the Bradley site at Dipton, near Consett, will be able to make their case in Leeds in January.

The High Court hearing will focus on whether the Government should have intervened to prevent the work being carried out.

If successful, campaigners hope it could force James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to review his decision not to step in and stop the opencast coal mine.

If the decision to revoke is found to be wrong, then the workings at the site, which began this June after months of protest, could cease.

The opencast coal mine, operated by Banks Group, has been fiercely contested since it’s announcement in January.

As well as protest camps and rallies, residents wrote to and petitioned the then Secretary of State for Housing and Communities Sajid Javid, to use his powers under Section 100 of the Town and Country Planning Act to revoke the permit for the mine.

In March Javid overturned a planning decision in favour of Banks Groups’ other proposed opencast coal mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland, citing climate change and damage to the local environment as reasons for refusing the proposal, before he was succeeded by James Brokenshire.

June Davison, the local resident who is the named claimant in the case against the Secretary of State, said: “The decision to let Banks Group go ahead is contradictory; Druridge Bay was rightly declined on grounds of climate change and damage to landscape.

“Coal contributes to climate change wherever it comes from, and the Pont Valley is classed as an ‘Area of High Landscape Value’, so I don’t know how you can argue that these reasons don’t apply here as well.”

The campaigners have said James Brokenshire refused to offer reasons for the denial of the campaigners’ request.

They believe the decision to grant a judicial review indicates that the Secretary of State’s refusal to provide reasons for his decision could be deemed unlawful.

Mrs Davison said: “We deserve to know what is the rationale behind the decision. If our elected politicians make a decision of such significance, they should tell us the grounds on which that decision is based.

“These decisions have both local and global impacts. Otherwise how can we have any trust or confidence in the decisions that politicians are making?”

The Campaign to Protect Pont Valley is also carrying out a private prosecution against the coal company, Banks Mining, over the alleged destruction of a newt habitat with the first hearing will be at Peterlee Magistrates’ Court on December 12.

Banks Group has planning permission to remove 500,000 tonnes of coal from the site over a three-year period following a lengthy legal battle, which has included two public inquiries and a High Court hearing.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, said:”The UK still requires coal as an essential raw material for our cement, steel manufacturing and other industries. It is also used to warm homes in areas without gas and remains an important part of the country’s mix for generating electricity.

“We believe that it is clearly in the UK’s national interest to continue to invest in skilled local mining jobs in North East England and to contribute towards meeting UK demand for coal from an indigenous source, rather than increasing our already substantial reliance on imports from distant overseas locations such as Russia and the US.

“We are continuing to progress work at our Bradley site in the safest, most efficient and most environmentally responsible way possible, creating jobs for dozens of local people, investing in the regional supply chain and helping to meet the UK’s continuing need for coal.”

A Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “This case is subject to ongoing legal proceedings therefore we are unable to comment.”