A MINING company behind a controversial opencast development is to face trial next year accused of wildlife crimes.

Peterlee Magistrates’ Court heard details of the case against Banks’ Group for alleged offences in the Pont Valley, near Consett.

The firm has created a surface coalmine amid a high profile campaign of opposition by residents and environmental activists.

A private prosecution is being brought by the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley after claims the habitat of great crested newts was disrupted when work started in June.

The case was listed for Wednesday morning but the company, which is based at Meadowfield, near Durham, did not send a legal representative.

District Judge Helen Cousins entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of the firm.

The case will now go to a full hearing on February 11 at Teesside Magistrates’ Court.

This hearing comes weeks after a High Court decision backing Banks Groups’ appeal to start another opencast mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland.

Meanwhile, the reasons behind Secretary of State James Brokenshaw’s refusal to intervene in the work underway by Banks Mining at the Bradley site, at Dipton, is going to judicial review at the High Court in Leeds in January.