OPENCAST coal mining has been given the go-ahead near Stannington, despite huge concern about road safety.
Hargreaves Services was granted planning permission on Tuesday to begin surface mining on agricultural land at Well Hill, near the hamlets of Tranwell and Glororum.
The company plans to extract 130,000 tonnes of coal from the site over two-and-a-half years.
But locals say the country lanes around the plot are not built for heavy coal vehicles and the scheme will pose a serious danger to pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and other traffic.
And with construction under way for a large housing development at the nearby St Mary’s Hospital site, they fear the risk of accidents will be even greater.
Further objections were raised about the impact on residents, with some homes just 17metres from the site.
However, the application was approved unanimously by Northumberland County Council’s Planning and Environment Committee.
Coun Ian Swithenbank said: “The dilemma we have here is if we refuse this, it will go to appeal and it will be approved, of that I’m sure. At that point, we lose all control of being able to negotiate the terms and conditions on road safety so I will have to vote for this as the least damaging option.”
The operator plans to mine the site in phases, using access from Bets Lane and onto an unclassified road via Glororum to the A1.
Twenty full-time jobs will be provided, with operations carried out from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, and from 7am to 1pm on Saturdays.
The company insists that no blasting will be done and progressive restoration will take place to return the land to agriculture and nature conservation, including woodland, ponds, wetlands and grassland.
The committee heard that 26 residents had objected to the plans and Stannington Parish Council also opposed the mine over the potential for blasting, the impact on the landscape character, residential amenity, road safety and cumulative impact on highways from St Mary’s Hospital, White House Farm and surrounding villages.
Parish Chairman Karen Carins called for a community liaison group to be set up and roadworks carried out in advance of the development.
She said access roads are narrow and potholed, with no passing places for vehicles or footpaths.
“I hope that the county council will take full responsibility for any damage to persons or property now it is in full receipt of the facts regarding road safety issues,” she added.
Glororum resident Deborah Court complained that highways studies had failed to take account of the increase in traffic from the St Mary’s site and said there would be a serious safety risk in more HGVs using the road.
Ward councillor Eileen Armstrong reiterated the highways concerns.
However, county highways officers had no objections. They said a meeting will be held with Hargreaves to discuss road issues and there could be some widening of the lane or resurfacing, prior to work commencing.
Senior Planning Officer Joe Nugent reported that there would be some adverse impact on the landscape and highway from the scheme, as well as a major visual impact for some residents and potential for noise and dust disruption, but he concluded that it would be acceptable and controlled through conditions.
He added that the project will provide coal and bring employment, and the restoration proposals will contribute positively to the environment.
Hargreaves Planning Director Steve McQuarrie said: “The Well Hill site is in an area where sites have worked in the past. It is small-scale and short-term. It benefits from high-quality coal and offers jobs and economic benefits.”
Councillors David Moore and Dougie Watkin spoke about road safety concerns and members urged Hargreaves to work with the community to resolve any problems.
Coun Ian Hutchinson said: “Listen to the residents, do your best for the area. It is a serious thing so please listen.”
After the meeting, Tranwell Woods resident Kevin Hutchinson said there were a number of inaccuracies in the planning report.
“I think the decision is disgraceful. They haven’t listened to us one little bit,” he said.
His partner Holly Avery added: “We are concerned about the noise, the dust and the visual impact. We have a baby on the way and the noise from 7am to 7pm is going to be really difficult.
“We are also worried about the traffic. It is a major worry about crashing, especially if you have kids in the car.”
A Hargreaves spokesman said: “We are pleased that the council considered our plans and we are delighted with the result.”