A MINING company locked in an ongoing legal battle with residents and climate change protestors is hoping to expand operations at a controversial coalmine.

The Banks Group has revealed plans to extend its development at the Bradley site at Dipton, near Consett, as campaigners wait to hear whether the Government will halt the scheme altogether.

If the plan is approved it would mean the County Durham firm could remove a further 100,000 tonnes of coal from the land.

It already has permission to extract 500,000 tonnes and work got underway last June following a stand-off with environment activists who set up a protest camp at the entrance.

The proposed additional area would mean extending the existing surface mine, which sits off the A692, towards the village of Leadgate.

The firm has said it would be completed by August 2021, the same as the Bradley site.

Lewis Stokes, community relations manager at The Banks Group, said: “Being able to take the new project forward on the back of a local planning decision will mean we can complete work on the new coaling area within the same period as the existing site, and it makes clear sense to make efficient use of local mineral resources in this way rather than further increase our reliance on imports from distant locations.

The Northern Echo:

“We will ensure that the local community is kept up-to-date with progress on our plans through our Bradley community liaison panel and other channels, and hope to be able to move this scheme forward as quickly as we can.”

Local people will be given the chance to visit the site in the near future to see work progressing and how the proposed extension would tie in with ongoing operations.

Mr Stokes said: “The Bradley site has been fully operational for more than six months and is working very well.

“We remain committed to continuing to produce high quality coal at Bradley in the safest, most efficient and most responsible way possible.”

On Monday, a petition backed by campaign group 38 Degrees, signed by over 55,000 supporters, demanding the cessation of work at Bradley and an end to new open cast mines, was handed to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The Northern Echo:

Meanwhile, Secretary of State James Brokenshire is expected to revisit his decision not to intervene in work starting at Bradley after the Government’s legal department said that there was ‘a flaw’ in the decision-making process.

The Coal Action Network is expected to resurrect a judicial review over the scheme if no decision is made by Monday.

Anne Harris, a spokesman for the campaigners, said: “It is ridiculous that they are trying to get an application when we are trying to get a decision from the Secretary of State to tell them whether their original application can continue.

“It is flying in the face of public opinion. It is really clear that people in that area do not want an opencast coalmine, nevermind an extension to it.”