By Clara Gaspar
Durham Miner’s Association and local residents are protesting the creation of an opencast coal mine in the North-East.
Banks Group, the company in charge of opening the mining site, plans to remove 500,000 tonnes of coal from the site, which is located between Dipton and Leadgate.
However, Banks must have finished building an access road to start work by June 3rd, or their planning permission will expire.
Those opposing the opening of the mine protested outside Durham’s County Hall on Wednesday morning.
During the demonstration, a 23-year-old woman was arrested by police. Over the span of recent demonstrations, 16 protesters have been arrested.
Disapproval towards the site dates back over 30 years, with the county council having refused planning permission three times since 1986.
Earlier this month, two protesters chained themselves to a gate in front of the site and a series of further demonstrations have been planned for days leading up to Banks Group’s deadline.
Alan Cummings, secretary of Durham Miners’ Association, expressed support for the anti-opencast coal campaign: “The Durham Miners’ Association has opposed opencast mining for many decades and support the locally lead campaign to protect the Pont Valley.
“It damaged deep mining in the past and now threatens to ruin our environment for no perceivable benefit.
“Our communities have suffered enough with the decline of the coal industry and they do not need to have more injury added to insult.
“There are deep mining projects reopening in various parts of England. So, there is little need to rip up the countryside to get coal.
“We are opposing Banks Group’s destructive and divisive plans to destroy the Pont Valley for its own gain.”
Despite Durham’s long mining history, many residents have expressed dismay at the planned works. Liam Carr, a local resident, stated: “Coal-mining is our heritage not our future. My granddad was a coal miner.
“We have been through all this before, we know the damage it does to the environment, and coal is the fuel of past not the future.”
Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party, has also observed the impact that an opencast mine could have on the local wildlife, among which are great crested newts, skylarks, curlews, raptors, slow worms, badgers and foxes.
Durham University was also implicated in the controversy last week when it was revealed that it had committed to undertaking an archaeological survey for the Banks Group at the new open-cast coal mining site at Pont Valley. However, the University has since clarified that the work is a statutory requirement that does not represent its comment on the proposals.
Photographs: Takver Via Flickr and Suzanne Leigh