Durham University has decided to undertake an archaeological survey at a controversial mining site.
This follows the institution’s agreement to divest its financial investment in fossil fuels, leading some to question Durham’s commitment to clean energy.
The decision also shadows the provocative renewal of the Mitie contract last month.
The department for archaeology is behind the survey, which is being carried out for the Banks Group at the new open-cast coal mining site at Pont Valley.
Digging on the site began on Wednesday, leading Banks workers and a member of Steadfast Security to inform onlooking residents the labour is for an archaeological survey by Durham University.
Local residents hold weekly demonstrations against the site, and direct action techniques have led to arrests, with protesters complaining of violence from police and Banks staff. There is a permanent protest camp on site.
Disapproval of the site dates back over 30 years, with the county council having refused planning permission three times since 1986.
Concerns relate to the impact on endangered Great Crested Newts reportedly sighted there, disruption to the local community, and climate change.
Banks Group has until June 3rd to build an access road before their planning permission expires.
The University has not yet responded to questions from residents and campaigners about the nature of their arrangement with Banks Group.
Tracy Gillman, a local resident living just 300 metres from the site, has said “Steadfast Security staff have consistently harassed and surveilled local residents, with threats to set their guard dog on us when we were walking the normal footpaths near our homes.
“We are an embattled community, appalled by the lack of sensitivity and action
demonstrated by Durham University.”
Professor Tim Clark, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Social Sciences and Health), Durham University, told Palatinate: “In March 2018, Durham University committed to divest its financial investments from companies involved in fossil fuel extraction and, in addition, reaffirmed its commitment to green energy.
“The University remains committed to research, which assists decarbonisation of the petroleum industry and its products.
“Durham University Archaeological Services provides archaeological and heritage services to the development industry, primarily in relation to planning permission.
“Staff from Durham University Archaeological Services are currently undertaking archaeological work in advance of the planned mining at the Bradley site, County Durham.
“This work is a statutory requirement and does not convey any Durham University statement or comment on the proposal.”
Photograph: Suzanne Leigh