A COAL company has promised to clear up water pollution and create a wildlife habitat if it wins permission to opencast a former colliery site.

But it looks likely to face opposition to its plans to work Stony Heap, Leadgate, near Consett.

UK Coal is seeking consent to extract 257,088 tonnes for electricity generation from the 121-acre site that once housed Eden Colliery.

The former colliery site at present is farmland and it already includes a Durham County Council wildlife site.

A nearby stream suffers pollution from old workings and the firm says it will install a treatment scheme and create a nature reserve once mining is completed.

But local county and Derwentside District councillor Watts Stelling said: "I am opposed to it because of the precedent it sets. There is still coal under the ground all over that area and if they get this one there will be an argument to have more opencasting up and down the valley.

"They are offering to clean up the site afterwards, but it will leave an environmental scar. At the moment, it is awash with wildlife, but it will replace a natural habitat with a sterile environment.

"In terms of jobs and the economy, these are specialist jobs and it will mean bringing in a specialist team currently working at Shildon, so it will have no benefit for the local economy."

A company spokesman said: "Stony Heap was part of the Eden Colliery complex, which ceased production in the early 1950s.

"For many years, ochreous minewater has been discharging into the Newhouse Burn, making it one of the county's top environmental black-spots.

"As part of the mining scheme, surface buildings would be reclaimed and a water treatment scheme introduced to deal with the polluted water.''

He added that mining and site reclamation would take two years and would be followed by the creation of a 64-acre nature conservation area - including wet grassland and seasonal ponds - and 16 acres of woodland.

New bridleways and footpaths and hedgerows would be created as part of a ten-year management plan for nature conservation for the area.

If the scheme gets Durham County Council's approval, it will provide work for 40 UK Coal employees working at the company's Southfield site at Shildon. Mining would start in March 2006.

The site will generate 74 lorry movements, using Brooms Lane, the Redwell Hills roundabout and the A692 and A693. Some blasting may be needed.

A council spokesman said officials were consulting on the proposals and the application would not come before councillors until the summer.

He added that the council's policy on opencasting was to "protect the county from further opencast working unless it is environmentally acceptable or it would provide local or community benefits sufficient to outweigh any harm which is caused'.'