New Risk to the English Counrtyside from Planning

Tagged as: economic_crisis environmentalism social_struggles
Neighbourhoods: co durham gateshead newcastle northumberland

The 7th Press Release from the Loose Anti Opencast Network explains why a Planning Inspectors decision on an Opencast Site Planning Application in a remote part of England has implications for all mineral planning applications across the country and not just those 5 pending for opencast coal.




LAON PR2012 -7                                                                  2/9/12

You want to open an opencast coal mine?  In England, we are ready to do business!!  This is no doubt the conclusion that all those companies who have submitted or are about to submit plans for new opencast mines will draw from the recent decision of a Planning Inspector to approve the Halton Lea Gate Opencast Mine Application. This recommendation to the Minister for Local Government was reached after a Public Inquiry which was one of the first Mineral Planning Applications to be considered under the new National Planning Policy Framework.

The decision to allow the Appeal, LAON argue, sets a case law precedent on how all future mineral planning applications in England should be prepared and decided on. What the Applicant has to replicate is the argument used here: that there is a national need for the mineral in question, in this case coal. If they can persuade the Planning Authority (or the Inspector, if the Application has gone to an Appeal) that this is the case, then ‘great weight’ has to be attached to this claim. So much weight it seems, that this factor alone can override all other considerations. 

The Loose Anti Opencast Network provides a list of sites every month where opencast applications have either been submitted or are in process of a final decision being made by a company to submit a formal application (see below).  We are aware that there are at least five other sites for which planning permission has been applied for (Birklands, Dearne Lea, George Farm, Hoodsclose and Shortwood Farm) where this decision makes the granting of permission more likely. In addition, there are three other sites, Ferneybeds, Hilltop Project and Marley Hill Reclamation, where a planning application could be imminent.

Local people in Halton Lea Gate are exploring whether there is a possibility of seeking a judicial review over the decision. LAON will give them support in their quest. However, if the decision of the Inspector is upheld then the future looks extremely bleak for those who do not want to endure any mineral extraction site, be it for coal or any other mineral, on their doorstep.

Steve Leary, Co-ordinator for the Loose Anti Opencast Network said:

“We now know that the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework has significantly moved the goal posts when it comes to making decisions about mineral planning applications in England. Whereas the bulk of the recent planning reform was about enhancing local communities’ ability to influence decisions about housing and other forms of land use, we can now see that, as far as mineral planning decisions are concerned, from gravel to granite, the opposite is the case.

In the case of making planning decisions about opencast coal applications things are even worse. From 1997 until March this year, Planning Policy had included  in it a ‘presumption against’ opencast mine clauses. Ironically you can still find a watered down version of it in the NPPF document (para 149), but now we can see it is not worth the paper it is written on, since the ‘great weight’ argument will always trump it (since national benefits have been added to local and community benefits to outweigh environmentally unacceptable applications). How it becomes a national priority to ensure that 140,000 tonnes of coal, enough to keep a power station like Ratcliffe going for just over 7 days,  cannot be  left in the ground, is far from clear. Why then should such  ‘great weight’  be attached to this criterion, to the exclusion of all others?

A planning system for minerals, which was already heavily weighted in favour of the Applicant because it gave the Applicant unlimited opportunity to use objections as a means of strengthening  the Application, is now tilted even further in favour of the Applicant. We now it seems have a mineral planning system where the default position for a mineral planning application is – Yes, you can! “

A list of current and potential opencast sites, with August news items about them, including the Halton Lea Gate decision, is below.


NEW 2012 SERIES: No 4                                              SEPTEMBER 2012

 The way to read each entry is as follows:

Site Name, Location, Planning Authority, Position in the Planning System (either in the main Scoping Inquiry or Application Submitted or Application Approved) and the name of the Applicant / Operator.

BIRKLANDS, (nr .Marley Hill, Gateshead), (Gateshead: Reference No DC/11/00687/MIN) (Application) (Hall Construction Services)

‘Opencast, the threat returns’ (local action group) (no date)

Not a news story, but an on line petition that can be signed to show opposition to open casting at this proposed 275,000 tonne site. See

You can read this application and still make comments here:;jsessionid=DE0DA6F1C3739817D51414835242B0FC?action=firstPage

BRADLEY (nr. Consett) (Co Durham) (Judicial Review) (UK Coal)

News from the Whittonstall Action Group (see below re the Hoodclose Application) is that UK Coal has been granted a Judicial Review though no date has yet been set. They also reported that UK Coal has told them that they are no longer trying to sell this site.

DEARNE LEA, WEST CLAYTON (S.E. of Huddersfield) (Kirklees Council: Reference No. 2012/62/9113/ED) (Application) (George Harrison Ltd)

To contact the Skelmansthorpe Communituy Action Group see:

For more details on the Application and the possibility to make a comment go to:

FERNEYBEDS, WIDDRINGTON STATION (8 miles NW of Ashington) (Northumberland County Council)  (Scoping Inquiry) (Banks Group) (750,000 tonnes)   A  news  story which John Carpenter sent me   ‘Teenagers  have their say on opencast’ (Morpeth Herald, 10/8/12)   Bank’s Group innovative approach to eventually gain planning permission for Ferneybeds  has now  involved young people. The Company, working with Northumberland’s Youth Service and the Couquet  Youth Club, undertook a consultation with  35 local young people  about the plans and presented the results to other adult groups. The report emphasises the skills learned by the 10  teenagers  who undertook the consultation. No information is provided on what the results of the consultation were. See:   Bank’s  report on what these views were is equally vague on this point: - see   ‘Widdrington opencast mine plans discussed with Coquet Youth Group’ (The Journal 3/8/12)   Another version of the same story. See

GEORGE FARM (nr. Smalley, Derbyshire) (Derbyshire County Council: Ref No. CM6/1110/112) (Application) (LEM Resources)

For more details on the Application and the possibility to make a comment go to:

The Smalley Action Group has now set up a petition where you can register your objection to the Application. See

HAGUE FARM (?) off Hague Lane nr Renishaw, Derbyshire

UK Coal has put this site up for sale. The particulars indicate that they are seeking a partner to help ‘develop’ (work the site as a surface mine) within 5 years. Site particulars are available here @

HALTON LEA GATE (c 5 miles SW of Haltwhistle) (Northumberland County Council) (Public Inquiry) (HM Developments) HM Developments plan to mine 140,000 tonnes of coal

‘Appeal ruling gives green light to Halton Lea Gate opencast’ (The Journal, 9/812)

At the third attempt and after a Public Inquiry, HM Developments wins approval for its plans to extract 140,000 tonnes of coal over a three and a half year period from a location 200 m from an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 17m from a home. Local people are stunned by the decision. The Planning Inspector Mr Sproule’s reasons are quoted as

“The evidence in this case has failed to show that the appeal proposal would be unacceptably harmful to the landscape qualities of the AONB and the rural character of the locality.

“The levels of nuisance dust and the frequency that it would be experienced ... would not be sufficient to be unacceptably harmful to local living conditions. It has not been shown that the health of local people would be likely to be harmed by emissions.”

Mr Sproule also said the development met planning regulations and “would contribute to the strength and vibrancy of the wider community”.


‘Coal  extraction approved in Northumberland and UK’ (Steelguru, 22/8/12)

This article highlights the real significance of the Halton Lea Gate decision for those groups opposing other opencast mine applications in England. The argument is that the Inspector had to take account of the new National Planning Policy Framework:

“Mr David Bridgwood associate director at Wardell Armstrong said that “We’re very pleased to have won this planning appeal, and with the comments made by the Planning Inspector. The result indicates a clear shift in policy in favour of surface mining of coal brought about by NPPF. The planning inspector has accepted that great weight is to be awarded to the benefits of mineral extraction.”

COMMENT – This is very bleak news and sets a bad precedent for the future. I’m working on an analysis of the NPPF if anyone wants to help me undertake this to see how it can be used to help all groups oppose future opencast mine applications. Get in touch if anyone is interested.


‘MP backs residents opencast campaign’, (Hexham Courant, 20/8/12)

News that a public meeting chaired by the local Hexham MP Guy Opperman, is considering whether to mount a Judicial Review over the decision. He gave advice, which is repeated on his blog (see below) about what action to take. The investigation about whether a Judicial Appeal will be undertaken is to be lead by Hartleyburn Parish Council. See

For Guy Opperman MP’s Blog offering advice about the decision see

‘Halton Le Gate Campaigners seek Judicial Review’ (The Journal, 24/8/12)

This article confirms that Hartlyburn Parish Council  is to seek advice about seeking a Judicial Review over this decision. See

The Clerk to Hartleyburn Parish Council is Ms K Little (01434 320159)

‘Harlton Lea Gate is “a national issue” say residents”, (The Journal, 27/8/12)

Mainly a re- working of a previous story, but some emphasis is put on the degree to which this decision sets a precedent for all future opencast and similar mineral site planning decisions.

COMMENT – Absolutely agree that this decision sets a precedent that makes far more likely the fact that all the current and pending applications for opencast cast sites in England listed here are now much more likely to be granted permission  unless this decision can, in some way, be overturned. See

Full details about the Public Inquiry can be found here:


HELL LANE, nr Normanton, Wakefield, Sth Yorkshire

UK Coal has put this site up for sale. The particulars indicate that they are seeking a partner to help ‘develop’ (work the site as a surface mine) within 5 years. Site particulars are available here @


HILLTOP PROJECT (nr. Clay Cross, Derbyshire) (Derbyshire County Council) ( Scoping Inquiry) (Provectus Remediation)

Provectus Remediation has indicated that they are intending to submit a plan to mine 130,000 tonnes of coal from a 30 hectare site over a 30 month period.

To keep in touch with the protest campaign, go to


HOODSCLOSE  Whittonstall (Northumberland County Council) (Application) (UK Coal)

UK Coal hopes to extract 2.2m tonnes of coal and 500,000 tonnes of fireclay   over a seven year period. The Scoping Inquiry state began soon after August 2009 with an application following in 2010. This is still a live application. According to the Whittonstall Action Group who recently met with UK Coal, this site is now no longer for sale

You can find further information and make a make a comment here:;jsessionid=2BC579DC2A201F65967E36E99DD92B3A?action=firstPage

You can also contact the Whittonstall Action Group here:

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England has now highlighted this site as one of those under threat in its new campaign to protect the Green Belt from development. See the Extra news item below:

“ 2 opencast mine sites in Greenbelt Land identified in the new CPRE Campaign to protect Greenbelt land in rural England from development.”


MINORCA NORTH (Leicestershire, Leicestershire County Council, UK Coal, Amount of estimated coal reserves not published, Stage: Exploratory Drilling)

The Minorca Opencast Protest Group, through my research has now found out that in February, UK Coal had applied for a licence from the Coal Authority undertake exploratory drilling to assess the coal reserves available on land adjacent to the current Minorca site. This site they are calling Minorca North. A news story on this follows.

‘Campaigner uncovers new plans for former colliery site’ (Burton Mail, 1/8/12) See


SCHOOLHOUSE LANE   off A692 nr Marley Hill, Co Durham

There is some confusion about whether this is a new UK Coal Marley Hill site or the site of the Marley Hill Reclamation Site. Either way, UK Coal, according to the Whittonsall Action Group, is no longer selling this site. However these were the particulars which indicated indicate that they were seeking a partner to help ‘develop’ (work the site as a surface mine) within 5 years. Site particulars are available here @


SHORTWOOD FARM (Trowel, nr Nottingham, Nottinghamshire) (Application) (UK Coal)

UK Coal has applied to mine 1,275,000 tonnes of coal over a 5yr period on a Greenfield site.

‘Councillors line up to oppose new plans for opencast mine near Trowel’ (Nottingham Post, 16/8/12)

Broxtowe District Council unanimously votes to oppose UK Coal’s plan for the Shortwood site. Judging from the comments in the news story, UK Coal is likely to have to submit supplementary information, postponing any determination meeting into the New Year. See

To send a letter opposing this application, go to:

There is now a local group formed to oppose this application, the Shortwood Farm Opencast Opposition. It is contactable via

To find out more about the Application see:

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England has now highlighted this site as one of those under threat in its new campaign to protect the Green Belt from development. See the Extra news item below:

“2 opencast mine sites in Greenbelt Land identified in the new CPRE Campaign to protect Greenbelt land in rural England from development.”


MARLEY HILL COLLIERY RECLAMATION  (Sunnyside, Gateshead (Co Durham also affected), (Scoping Enquiry) (UK Coal)

No recent news about this proposed development.


WELL HILL FARM, STANNINGTON (nr Morpeth) (Northumberland County Council) (Application) (Hargreaves Services)

‘Planning permission sees coal mining return to the North East’ (Northern Echo, 9/8/12)

Northumberland CC grants planning permission to Hargreaves for a 130,000 tonne two year development. Hargreaves is reported as planning to surface mine 500,000 tonnes of coal for the next 10 years at sites in Northumberland, Co Durham, North Yorkshire and Scotland. Three sites are expected to be operational at any one time.


‘Road fears cannot thwart mine plan’ (Morpeth Herald, 9/8/12)

Another news item on the decision includes both reasons for objecting to the development and reasons for approving it. Objections were over the location in terms of the road system (narrow country lanes) and proximity to houses (17m from the site).

However NCC gave unanimous approval

“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.” See

As this is now an approved site it will be removed from the list.


NEW:  BRYN DEFAID, LLWYDCOED  (Rhondda Cynon Taf Council) (Scoping Inquiry) (Celtic Energy) (1.2m tonnes)

‘Revealed, new opencast mine plan for the Valley’ (Wales on Line 19/7/12)

The Valley in question is the Cynon Valley as Celtic Energy publicise their proposals and hold a series of Public Exhibitions. The plans are supposed to be available at this web address:


‘Petition grows against bid for opencast mine’ (Wales on Line 16/8/12)

Hundreds of local people in Merthyr Tydfil have already signed a petition against this proposal as Merthyr Tydfil Councillor Malcolm Jenkins, Chair of the Merthyr Tydfil Anti Opencast Group speaks out against the proposal. See

However Merthyr Tydfil Council published a correction – Malcolm Jenkins is not a Councillor. See


NANT LLESG, GWENT (Gwent) (Scoping Inquiry) (Miller Argent) (anything  from 6 – 10m tonnes)

‘New Opencast site is revealed’ (Wales on Line, 4/8/12)

More conflicting news revealed about this proposed site. Now 10m tonnes over a 15yr period on a 950 acre site. See

‘ Nant Llesg opencast mine protestors make a short film’ (Wales on Line 9/8/12)

The Green Valley Alliance makes a video showing the proposed impact of the proposed Nant Llesg opencast mine on the local landscape. This now 6m tonne proposed development will be worked for 17 years on a 1,000 acre site according to this news story

A planning application is expected in September. See

COMMENT – Until the planning application goes in the details of what to expect, how much coal for how long are likely to remain unclear. Clarity may come if someone asks for details of what Miller Argent indicated in their Pre Scoping Inquiry Letter

You can contact The Green Valley Alliance via Facebook @



‘North East’s rich coal reserves continue to yield wealth through opencast’ (, 15/8/12)

This is, in the main, a positive news story from the Business Section of the Journal   for the opencast industry operating in the N.E. of England. It cites developments on a number of sites and offers opinions from Banks, UK Coal and Hargreaves. It also includes negative comments from the Whittonstall Action Group and CPRE. See

‘Opencast is far from beneficial: Views of the North’, (The Journal / The Free Library, 23/8/12)

In reply to the above article I wrote a letter on behalf of LAON that pointed out that:

The levels of noise and dust which concern local people and they have to tolerate are beyond local control to change.

That some opencast operations can last up to 22 years rather than 2 years as the original article implied.

That not all restoration schemes are beneficial, witness the Pegswood Opencast saga and the issue of the missing lake.

I can’t find it in the actual Journal for the 23/8/12 but this is a link to the letter. See



‘Zooming in on latest info on coal mining’, (Nottingham Post, 21 8/12)

Report on the Coal Authority’s launch of an Interactive Map viewer on coal sites. For more info see below


“Launch of Enhanced Interactive map Viewer” (Coal Authority, 21/8/12)

Statement from the Coal Authority. See

Link to the actual Map Viewer:

COMMENT – I tried it, but according to the map viewer there is no opencast site at Minorca!! Anyone have better success?



“Government needs to honour pledges to protect green belt” (Campaign to Protect Rural England, 27/8/12)

CPRE launch their campaign to protect threats to the Green Belt. Their map, which can be accessed through links embedded in the news stories, identify two opencast sites Hoodsclose in Northumberland and Shortwood Farm in Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire as being opencast sites at risk of being developed. These are sites which have regularly featured in this review (see above). See

This news story gained national coverage. Here are a few links to how the story was reported


The Guardian

The Telegraph

The Express


If you have news about developments at any of the above sites, or you have news of any new sites not included in this list then please contact LAON at, which is also the address for contacting LAON.

You can now follow LAON on Twitter @


About LAON

The Loose Anti-Opencast Network (LAON) has been in existence since 2009. It  functions as a medium through to oppose open cast mine applications through which any person / group can communicate ideas, information, requests for information and possibly concerted actions if we find a target. In addition feel free to invite any other person / group who oppose opencast mining applications, to join the network so that it grows. At present LAON links individuals and groups in N Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Northumberland, Co Durham, Leeds, Kirklees Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Walsall.





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