ESCALATING mass protests are set to take place in a bid to prevent the expansion of an opencast coalmine.

Extinction Rebellion has vowed to step up pressure on planners before they decide whether to back the scheme.

Banks Mining is already working the Bradley site, near Consett, and has applied to Durham County Council for permission to remove a further 90,000 tonnes of coal.

A group from XR, the Dead Canaries - named in reference to warnings about the noxious effects the burning of fossil fuels has - has written to the authority urging them to block the new plans.

Protestors demonstrated at County Hall in Durham this week and dug up a grassed area outside the Department for Communities and Local Government in London to demonstrate the impact surface mining has on the environment.

Next week there will be a protest led by the region’s youth and later this month there will be a mass action over multiple days.

Nicholas Kasch, a materials scientist, 32, of Coxhoe, said: “If we want to avoid the most awful consequences of a heating world, we need very quickly to stop digging up and burning fossil fuels. Even looking at expanding coal extraction is insane.”

Planning permission for the ongoing development to remove 500,000 tonnes of coal was delayed due to years of legal arguments which ended in a High Court ruling.

Stuart Timmiss, head of development and housing at Durham County Council, said: “We are aware of the concerns being raised over this application and have received the letter from the Extinction Rebellion campaign group.

“I can assure members of the group that this letter will be carefully considered as part of the planning process, along with the other representations we have received.”

The authority has received several thousand letters of objection to the scheme as well as a few hundred in support.

Mark Dowdall, from The Banks Group, says: “The clear consequence of XR’s demands would be to further increase the amount of coal that British industry is forced to import, which would then unnecessarily add to the global volume of greenhouse gas emissions generated. In other words, XR would directly exacerbate the problem they are looking to solve.”