COUNCILLORS have rejected plans to extend a controversial opencast coalmine.

Durham County Council planning committee this morning voted to reject Banks Group’s application to develop the existing site between Dipton and Leadgate.

If approved the firm would have been able to remove a further 90,000 tonnes of coal.

Bosses behind the scheme had promised to stick to an original deadline to restore the land by mid-August next year (2021), and planning officers had recommended it for approval.

But decision makers instead opted to side with the more than 6,000 letters of objection sent in opposing further work at the mine.

The application was rejected on the grounds that the environmental impacts of the scheme.

Councillor Mark Wilkes, who proposed the motion to refuse the opencast, said: “Is it in the national interest to pump out more co2 and other pollutants into atmosphere and stymie the development of alternative technologies?

“The Government have committed to a Clean Steel Fund. We have to protect the local community and the nation from the adverse environmental impacts.”

The proposed site would be 33m from the nearest homes, where 250 metres had been the acceptable standard in the past, and opencast coal mining includes blasting rock with explosives and releasing dust particles into the surrounding area.

Cllr Wilkes added: “This is where people live and sit in their gardens and want to breathe clean air. This is 2020 not 1820.”

Speaking at the hearing, Alan Holmes of Campaign to Protect Pont Valley argued that approval was inconsistent with Durham’s future plans including climate mitigation plans: “The County Durham Plan asserts climate change issues should be considered in every aspect of strategy and decision making.

“The officer’s report recommends no weight is afforded to the emergent County Plan, even though it will form the basis of decision making well into the future.”

Michael Litchfield of Derwent Valley Protection Society also spoke against the mine at the hearing saying “There is no national need for the open cast coal that could possibly outweigh the environmental and social cost of this opportunistic scheme.”

Anne Harris from Coal Action Network said that “Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick should take note and decisively reject Druridge Bay, a 3 million tonne coal mine in Northumberland which is still awaiting his decision.

She said: “We have seen in the news in recent weeks, the community groups and individuals who have petitioned, door-knocked, written letters, have managed to convince planners that a coal mine is not in anyone’s interest.

“We applaud the councillors who listened to the community and took the only right course of action in a climate emergency.

“The impact of this decision will be felt nationally as more mines are set to go before planning committees.”

Banks Group’s proposal for another opencast coal site, Dewley Hill near Newcastle, is awaiting a planning hearing date, and has also been countered by a community campaign.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, says: "We are extremely disappointed with those planning committee members who voted against the advice of their own expert planning officers' clear recommendation to approve our Bradley West mine.  

“At a time when every second story on the news is about jobs losses caused by the pandemic, this decision has effectively handed the much-needed jobs of our skilled local workforce to Russian miners, who will be delighted to meet British industry’s continuing need for coal and who will significantly increase global greenhouse gas emissions by doing so.

“We are grateful to all those who have given their backing to this project, most especially the many people living in adjacent communities who supported the application, and will now review the precise reasons for this decision before agreeing on the most appropriate steps to take.”