A COMPROMISE deal has been reached over a long-running dispute about the future of sea-coaling in Hartlepool.

A series of measures, including licensing people to collect coal from the town's beaches to sell, were agreed at a meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council's policy scrutiny forum yesterday.

For decades, people in Hartlepool have complained about sea-coalers, and residents have repeatedly called for the practice to be banned, because they say it causes damage to the beaches.

But the sea-coalers say they help to keep the beaches clean by removing coal dumped by industry, and they insist they need to continue their traditional work to provide an income for their families.

A previous licensing scheme, which collapsed in the early 1980s, charged sea-coalers £600 to collect coal. The new initiative will target the coal merchants who buy the fuel and process it to sell on, rather than the beach collectors.

It is hoped this will make the merchants responsible for the collectors' behaviour and make it easier to regulate, because there are only a handful of coal merchants compared with the large, varied group of sea-coalers.

Hartlepool Borough Council will designate which beaches can be used by sea-coalers and how they can gain access to each area.

A spokesman for the sea-coalers said: "We are pleased that we can carry on our work. We just hope we won't be stopped from going on the main beaches.

"We have always said that we are doing no harm."

There will be a code of conduct attached to the scheme, covering speed restrictions, load limits and protected areas of the beaches. Signs will be erected to remind sea-coalers of their responsibilities.

Closed-circuit television cameras could also be installed along the beaches to make sure the sea-coalers are obeying the rules.

A council spokesman said: "The foreshore is a place of recreation and, therefore, there should not be an excessive number of cameras, nor should they be intrusive.

"The cameras must be used pro-actively, and coal collectors and other beach users must be aware that breaches of codes of conduct or bylaws will be acted upon."

The new rules will have to be ratified by the council before they come into force.