PROTESTORS are urging people to join a letter-writing campaign to oppose plans to develop an opencast mine on the County Durham border.

Derwentside Residents Against Mining Application (DRAMA) met last night in Burnopfield to discuss their strategy.

Hall Construction wants to extract 480,000 tonnes of coal and 100,000 tonnes of fireclay from the Skon's Park site, the National Trust's Gibside Estate.

But concerned residents have mobilised in a bid to thwart the plan.

Burnopfield ward representative for Derwentside District Council, Councillor Bob Alderson, said: "A recent public meeting was packed to the rafters with people who are concerned about the plan.

"The nearest house on the Oakfield Estate is only 70 metres away from the site.

"There will be a lot of blasting and people are worried about the noise, the dust and the lorries that will transport the coal.

"The traffic is going to increase an awful lot. We want people who also oppose the plan to write to the planning authority, Gateshead Council, because it has more impact than a name on a petition."

Hall Construction vowed to return the site to agricultural use in three years and said half the site will not be touched for the first year.

Afterwards, new woodlands and hedgerows would be created along with a new network of public bridleways and sloping, shallow ponds to eliminate the flood water discharge from the site.

Gateshead Borough Council is expected to make a decision on the planning application later this year.

To express a view, write to the Development Control Department, Gateshead Borough Council, Civic Centre, Regent Street, Gateshead, NE8 1HH.