Opencast mining plans set to raise hackles

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SEVEN million tonnes of coal across the country could be extracted by controversial opencast methods if permission is given for the plans, it was claimed yesterday.

In Yorkshire plans are well advanced for 190,000 tonnes of coal and 40,000 tonnes of fireclay, (material used in the building industry), to be extracted from land at Clayton West on the Huddersfield/Barnsley and Wakefield border.

The Loose Anti-Opencast Network says several of the sites have suffered from degrees of planning blight during the time taken to reach a decision which often lasts for months and not infrequently even years.

The review by the network says: “Opencast coal is the itch that will not go away in the planning system as long as sites can be proposed that come so close to where people live.

“Of the 12 sites included here evidence already exists that 10 of them have provoked opposition to the plans.”

The group adds: “Even the hint of a proposal has a negative effect on local house prices. However, what people fear most is the consequences of planning permission being granted, leading to people finding that they live in close proximity to an industrial site working for 12 hours a day during the working week with all its associated noise, dust and increased local heavy traffic movements.

“Until people in England enjoy the same degree of protection as those living in Scotland and Wales, where the planning policy guidelines do include the provision of a 500m Buffer Zone, the itch will continue to irritate.”

Developers Gordon Harrison Ltd want to develop an opencast mine at Dearne Lea off Litherop Lane which would see a total of 30 lorry loads arriving and exiting the site each working day.

Already, Wakefield Council’s deputy leader, Coun Denise Jeffery, has come out strongly against the scheme which is situated around 1km away from Bretton Hall and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

And Kirklees councillor Jim Dodds (Con, Denby Dale), said: “I remember opencast mining in the 1950s and 60s and have got very mixed feelings.

“I was a young boy on a farm in Northumberland and there was a lot of open mining and it was like living on the moon.

“I know it is different now but memories are hard to forget. Those images that you had as a young boy are hard to erase.

“There have been some concerns about the proposals expressed to me by about a dozen local residents.

“They are worried about the dust and noise. I also understand that a local action group has been set up.

“It is going to take two years to excavate the coal and another six months to put the land back to how it was.

“But to be fair to the developers they have done their homework and they say there will be no impact on it.”

A similar plan was rejected by Kirklees planners in 1997 but Mark Barrett of Silkstone Environmental Ltd which represents the developers, said he was very positive about the scheme.

He said: “Most people are not objecting to the scheme; therefore we are quite confident that we may well receive planning permission, though it will be some considerable time before we get to that stage – four to six months later this year.”

He said 12 full-time jobs would be created, and this would lead to another 12 being created indirectly in the local community as well as another four part-time jobs.

After the completion of mining and restoration the site would become the home of Emley Show. An agreement has already been reached with the show organisers.

And he said the coal produced would be used to generate electricity. It would also mean that £13m of coal would not need to be imported.