AN opencast restoration scheme that is almost a decade behind schedule may be given over to a seven-year landfill operation.
Villagers have spent years seeking a solution to the Pegswood Moor restoration after a lake at the site failed to fill up and was considered a danger.
Banks Mining successfully completed the first phase of creating a community park, but the second phase, including the ‘leaking lake’ is no further forward.
And now the company is suggesting putting it off for another seven years to fill the void with up to a million tonnes of inert waste, such as rubble, soil and rock, from across the region.
The project would be a year in the planning, followed by five years of operations when up to 130 vehicles a day would bring the material to the site. There would then be a further year for restoration work.
A community benefits fund of around £200,000 would be available.
The proposal was first mooted in early 2011, but received a hostile reception from residents, as well as a liaison working group of Longhirst, Pegswood and Hebron parish councils, and Morpeth Town Council.
Banks agreed to go back to the drawing board and carry out further consultation and it had recently been suggested that the restoration could be completed by leaving the lake as it is and adding footpaths and planting.
But now it seems the infill option is back on the agenda.
Liaison group Chairman Peter Coates, from Longhirst, said: “We are very disappointed.
“This came up at the second meeting we had with the Banks senior directors, including Harry Banks himself. At the first one they led us to believe that retaining the lake as it stands was an option and we made it very clear that it was the answer we were looking for.
“The whole project has been delayed for approaching 10 years now.
“The prospect of another seven years of the scheme being on hold and losing the lake altogether is not one we are at all happy with.
“When the lake was empty there were concerns about safety, but now it is moderately full and it isn’t as dangerous. It may still go down in dry weather, but it is not going to drain dramatically.”
Pegswood councillor David Woodard said no firm decision has been made by Banks, but there is strong opposition to the infill option.
He said: “At a meeting in February, Banks put forward in some detail how it would go about a landfill operation and we weren’t impressed at all.
“The councillors present told Banks that it is not what is wanted and we would resist it. The ball is in Banks’ court now.
“I would hope Banks does the decent thing and gives us our park in a short space of time. The work that is involved we feel could be done in a year.”
In a report to Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee, working group member Les Cassie said: “We are seven years on from when this was supposed to be done and it remains closed to the public.
“There have been some incredibly frustrating meetings over the years because Banks hasn’t come up with plans to fix it.
“Given that the restoration is well overdue, to have to wait another seven years is extremely undesirable.”
Previously, the liaison group had suggested that infill material could be used from the former opencast site itself, cutting out the need for deliveries and reducing the time-scale, but Banks said it would not be appropriate to dig up restored land, which it does not own.
Banks Environment and Community Director Mark Dowdall said: “Banks has put a great deal of work into creating a successful landscape at Phase One of the Pegswood Community Park and we have been investigating a variety of solutions for the new Pegswood lake so that this second phase of the park will also live up to the high standards we set ourselves for our landscape and restoration work.
“Over the last two years we have explored a number of options for securing a satisfactory resolution of the issue with the lake, which not only will enable the completion of what is a well-used public amenity, but which will also bring significant additional benefits to the wider community.
“We were disappointed with the feedback to our latest proposals that we received from the parish council representatives, but remain fully committed to finalising this work as appropriately and efficiently as we can, and will continue to work with all interested parties to make this happen as quickly as possible.”