"This region was built on coal, we are rightly proud of our past. Coal is our heritage, not our future.
The decision to allow the Bradley opencast coal site in Pont Valley, County Durham, which began operating in 2018, is to be reconsidered by James Brokenshire, the communities secretary.
A judicial review brought by local residents today forced the secretary of state to agree to revisit the decision. His department admits that ‘a flaw in the decision-making process’ had resulted in the refusal to revoke the mining company’s permit last summer, enabling them to begin extracting 500,000 tonnes of coal.
Opencast coal extraction involves stripping large areas of topsoil and subsoil to extract vast quantities of coal using heavy machinery and dynamite. It is far more destructive to the local environment than traditional mining which it came to replace.
June Davison, who lives near the Bradley site, said: "As a result of the government’s flawed decision, we have watched from our homes as a much-loved habitat has been ripped apart, and we have suffered coal dust and noise 12 hours a day.
"Within weeks explosions will begin just 500 metres from our homes as they blast away the earth in preparation for destroying a whole new section of the valley for coal, unless the government acts.
"The Secretary of State can’t repair the damage that has been done here but the least he can do is stop it getting worse. We are fighting back for what remains of the wildlife in the Pont Valley, for the climate and for the health of our community.’
This comes as the decision on whether to approve another opencast coal site, Druridge Bay in Northumberland, was handed back to the Secretary of State on Friday.
The department admitted that it failed to take into account campaigners’ and lawyers’ letters which had raised comparisons between Bradley and the proposed Druridge Bay opencasts; the latter was refused in 2018 on the grounds of climate change and damage to the local landscape and community.
Tony Bosworth, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The world’s leading climate scientists have made it clear that we need to act fast to avoid climate chaos.
"Coal is one of the dirtiest fossil fuels and it belongs in the history books, not in an energy system for the 21st century. Our energy future must be based on energy saving and renewable energy, not on more fossil fuels.”
The company behind both projects is Banks Group, which is also seeking an extension to another opencast mine, “Shotton” in Northumberland, and is investigating a new site for coal extraction near of Newcastle. Banks Group is the only company in the UK which is looking to open new opencast coal sites.
Banks Group is also awaiting a court trial for wildlife crimes, as residents claim the company failed to relocate protected species off the Bradley site before the mine started.
The end of coal...?
Anne Harris, of the Coal Action Network, said: ‘The government should seize this opportunity to end the dirty industry of opencast coal extraction for good. Supporting either Bradley or Druridge Bay would be inconsistent with their promise to end coal use in power stations by 2025.’
But what would the end of coal mean in County Durham, where the deep-pit mines used to provide work for whole communities?
Liam Carr, local resident, said: “Most families around here would have dads or granddads who worked down the pit, but opencast coal does not provide the job opportunities that deep mining once did.
"The government should look again at revoking permission at Bradley and look very closely at any new opencast coal mine applications. This region was built on coal, we are rightly proud of our past. Coal is our heritage, not our future."