Mine plans may divide community

A COMMUNITY is at risk of being torn apart over ‘divisive’ opencast plans.

Hargreaves Production Surface Mining is seeking permission to alter planning conditions for its Well Hill opencast site near Stannington after finding large quantities of quality fireclay.

The company currently has consent to extract 130,000 tonnes of coal over two-and-a-half years, but it is seeking to more than double the amount of material removed from the site to include 160,000 tonnes of fireclay and 30,000 tonnes of glacial clay.

The extra work would increase lorry movements from ten in and ten out of the site each day over six days to 22 each way, Monday to Fridays.

And because of concerns about increasing traffic along the approved route to the A1 through Glororum, it is suggested that half of the HGV movements would go through Tranwell, Loansdean and Clifton.

Stannington Parish Council Chairman Karen Carins said: “This is a very divisive situation for the parish.

“The problem with this application is that with both directions the traffic could go, it is going to compromise the residents living there.

“If permission is not granted then it could be that the applicant goes back to the original route through Glororum, which frankly can’t take any more vehicles because it already has construction vehicles from the Bellway site at St Mary’s Hospital and it is a very narrow road.

“The route the coal lorries take through Glororum is under immense pressure and the infrastructure just isn’t there, but if they go through Tranwell and Clifton then there are the same problems.

“It has put us in quite a difficult position as a parish council because either route is not going to be good for our residents.”

Originally, it was thought that the clay was of poor quality, but once work began on site, testing revealed that the fireclay was of sufficient standard for use in brick production, which has picked up following an uplift in house building, while the glacial clay could be used for flood alleviation schemes.

Coun Carins said she is seeking an extension of the consultation period for the application to enable the parish council to discuss it later this month.

“It seems that now they have found fireclay, they have got to do something with it, they can’t just leave it. It is a really difficult one for us,” she said.

“We have had Banks Mining here for probably more than 20 years by the time it finishes so it is not that we aren’t used to opencast mining.

“We have been quite lucky with Banks because of the way it has been able to move the coal and fireclay, but the Well Hill opencast is difficult because of where it is.

“It would be safe to say that we will be asking for an extension of the consultation so that we can make comment.

“We haven’t had a chance to discuss this as a parish council yet, but we know that quite a few comments have been made about it and we want to see what everybody has had to say. Certainly, there are quite a lot of objections coming from residents and it is causing a lot of upset.”

Hargreaves has stated that the additional HGV movements will have a negligible impact and planning policy indicates that fireclay should be considered a resource of local and national importance.

In a Supporting Statement for the application, it states: “The quality results now obtained mean that if the fireclay and glacial clays are not exploited whilst the coal is being extracted, there would be a major missed opportunity to economically extract these minerals. Leaving these minerals in situ would make both minerals uneconomic to extract at a later date.

“Hargreaves considers the extraction of these minerals in conjunction with the removal of coal will enable the reserves to feed into local markets and projects and this will have a small, yet important, influence on the regional economy.

“The principle also ensures known reserves of local and national importance are not unduly sterilised, which is against the principles of sustainable mineral management.”