PLANS for an extension to a controversial surface mine have been recommended for approval by planning chiefs, despite objections from environmentalists and local residents.

The original application was given the go-ahead after a protracted legal battle, which ended with police forcibly removing climate change protestors from the site at Dipton, near Consett.

Work to remove 500,000 tonnes of coal got underway in June 2018, and now Banks Mining is hoping to extend the Bradley site towards Leadgate. The latest proposals prompted a three-day demonstration in February at the site by Extinction Rebellion activists.

Durham County Council's planning committee meeting on Wednesday will consider an application to extract around 90,000 tonnes of coal and 20,000 tonnes of fireclay for use by regional brickmakers from an 18.5 hectare area between the western edge of the current Bradley site and the roundabout on which the Jolly Drovers pub sits at the eastern edge of Leadgate.

Thousands of letters objection have sent to the council, the bulk of which are from people living elsewhere in the region, the UK and abroad.

Objectors argue the proposals will damage the environment, harm wildlife and be detrimental for the local community.

But, according to a planning officers’ report “the national, local and community benefits that have been considered…….clearly outweigh (the scheme’s) likely impacts”. And they "considered that the proposal would be environmentally acceptable with the application of appropriate planning conditions and obligations.”

Planning officers also note that the firm's restoration proposals “would deliver a quality restoration and after use of the site with opportunities to increase biodiversity interests” and that “the scheme as a whole has been designed to be worked in a way that would limit the environmental effects on local communities.”

Lewis Stokes, community relations manager at The Banks Group, said: “Our highly-skilled team has been producing high-quality coal at Bradley for more than two years in the safest, most efficient and most responsible way possible, and have operated the site to the highest environmental standards.

“As the planning officers themselves highlight in their report, British industry still needs coal and fireclay for a range of essential manufacturing processes, including the steel, cement and brick sectors.

“While this remains the case, it doesn’t just make economic sense to use the coal we can produce here, but social, ecological, environmental and climate sense too.”

Banks Mining says the Bradley West extension would provide continued employment for the 39 people working on the site and would enable it to increase its support for local community groups and charities by providing a further £48,000 for the Bradley community benefits fund.

The firm has committed to completing operational and restoration work on the extension to the same August 2021 deadline to which the existing Bradley site is operating if it is able to move the project forward through a positive local planning decision.

June Davison, who lives in one of the houses closest to the existing site says, ""We look forward to addressing the Planning Committee on Wednesday.

The committee has before it a large report with much information on which to decide. Given the climate emergency the committee will be in the spotlight of the nation.

"Durham should be placing itself at the forefront of the changes needed to address climate change not clinging onto old technology and the continued exploitation of coal is a significant example of that old way of working. 

"We are still in the middle of the Covid pandemic and one thing this has shown us is that we must change. Another aspect it has highlighted is the importance of home and access to established, natural, green spaces, both of which are threatened if the opencast were to be given permission to expand.

"Refusal of this expansion of dirty coal would be a step in the right direction and send a message that Durham wants a sustainable move forward."