UNPOPULAR plans to create an opencast mine in north Durham are to be determined at a public inquiry.

UK Coal has lodged an appeal with The Planning Inspectorate over Durham County Council’s decision to refuse planning permission in February.

The application to extract more than 500,000 tonnes of coal from the Bradley site, between Leadgate and Dipton, was branded ‘environmental vandalism’ by campaigners.

The council planning committee’s decision to unanimously reject the plan was met with cheers from those who pleaded with them to protect the natural beauty of the area.

Carol Rocke, of the Pont Valley Network, said: "We are dismayed that once again, obscene amounts of taxpayer's money is to be spent on a public inquiry, when previous opencast applications for this site have already been tested and thrown out at public inquiries in the mid 1980's and before that in the 1970's.

"We are fully aware of the interest in this site from opencast operators and we are prepared to be in this fight for the long haul.

"We want to preserve the beauty of the Pont Valley for future generations and believe that the long term potential economic benefits to the local community far outweigh the short term financial gain to the coal operators."

The council received a 3,389-name petition opposing the scheme, 155 letters of protest and nine objections from community groups, as well as opposition from the former and current MPs, Baroness Armstrong and Pat Glass.

UK Coal said it would donate £53,375 for community projects as well as £700,000 towards a roundabout where the A692 meets the A693.

It also received three letters of support on the basis of the 38 jobs it would create.

The proposed working hours for site operations are from 7am to 7pm, Monday to Friday, and 7am to noon on Saturday with no working on Sundays or bank holidays.

The scheme had been recommended for conditional approval by case officer Claire Teasdale, but members agreed the environmental and ecological costs outweighed any benefits.

A spokesman for UK Coal confirmed the company is appealing.

He said: "We were obviously disappointed with the decision by the planners and feel we have got a solid environmental case.

"We have not yet got a date for the public inquiry."