This week saw many more powerful contributions from the local community. On the evening session more than 55 residents and concerned parties came to watch and support PVN. Presentations were of high quality and too numerous to be listed.
Dr. Harbinson explained the damage which would be done to the vulnerable, re-introduced, red kite population. Red kites are seen foraging on the site on an almost daily basis. The kites were introduced in 2004 as part of a national reintroduction program, and sadly this area has been the least successful area. ‘Crucially there is a failure of the birds to extend their range beyond the core area of the Derwent Valley.’ This emphasises the necessity to make no changes which could adversely affect the birds.
‘Thankfully, following an extensive monitoring programme 2014 has been a much better year with 20 pairs producing 35 young. However, once again nearly all the nests were in the core area of the Derwent valley with only two outside… Red Kites and Buzzards, which [are] also a grade 1 listed species are heavily dependent on earth worms at certain times of the year. They are thus heavily dependent on areas of secluded undisturbed pasture land and rough grassland. This secluded, undisturbed grass and pasture land which is the central area earmarked for open cast is at a premium in the Derwent Valley.’ He goes on to say ‘How can any restoration be other than detrimental when we know that earthworms on which both Buzzards and Red Kites depend are known to be largely absent from open cast restoration (Digging Up Trouble, Cox et Al. 2000). Furthermore earthworm populations may not return to normal for up to 20 years ( Armstrong and Bragg, 1984). Kites are particularly dependent on earthworms during March and April, the very months which we know have been problematic in the Northern kite release (Carter, 2001).’
Dr. Harbinson went on to criticise UK Coal’s ‘award winning’ restoration efforts nearby. ‘If the Stoney Heap restoration site is anything to go by it would be disastrous: thin topsoil which is eroding in parts, areas choked with gorse through lack of management, paths overgrown and difficult to locate, ponds, which are difficult to see or access are placed in isolation without any context in a monoculture of a single grass species, some ponds choked with phragmites, large regimented rows of birch which have been planted without any attempt to give a natural feel to the landscape and fences and barbed wire-creating an environment which is completely sterile and which will probably remain so for generations.’
Dr. Harbinson quoted the planning inspector at a housing development nearby as saying this is a ‘landscape area with a high sensitivity to change.’ His evidence was compelling and not significantly undermined by UK Coal.
The Chair of the Pont Valley Network, David Maas, and part of 6 generations of his family to live in the valley, talked about the impact this applications success would have on the Land of Oak and Iron project that Durham has got money for. The project is partly lottery funded and works to tie people to their land and industrial past. He highlighted that, ‘The link between the application and the applicant is broken,’ as the company will not operate a mine at this site.
Karen, from the Pont Valley Network described all of the work the organisation had put into the area since its formation in 2007. This included 9 formal walks in 2014 with an average of 22 participants. The issue of TUFA, rare geological deposits was brought up as they have been found in the Valley’s streams and could be damaged by deep excavations and disruption to the water table. The pont Valley Network will be looking for protection status on this if the application is again refused. The lawyer for UK Coal asked a couple of questions of her which seemed to be designed to show that UK Coal own the land, and not you (the local people).
In her statement to the inquiry Dr. Mansfield, the ecologist for UK Coal said that the birds did not nest on the site and would be unaffected by the mine and restoration. She said that there are ‘potential for nesting habitat immediately adjacent to the site.’ But that on the site, ‘foraging is all I believe that they are doing.’ Mansfield seems to suggest that only nesting mattered and not the food they survived on. She said that restoration techniques have improved since the Digging Up Trouble report was written, but was unable to give references to the accuracy of this statement. She did however say that some research into restored land is funded by mineral operations. This made members of the audience unsure of the validity of this research. She also said that the reason some areas of Stoney Heap, includes an experiment in new soil techniques. Mrs. Mansfield also said that the ponds UK Coal has made to move the great crested newts to was better than the one they are currently in.
As the council objected to the mine on the basis of landscape and planning they cannot ask questions on other areas. However local residents had plenty of questions for the ecologist and later for the archaeologist.
Local residents were not reassured by the ecologists assertions of lack of harm to wildlife in relation to red kites, great crested newts or the wider ecology. Nor did they believe the assertions that the restoration at Stoney Heap was going well.
Two renewable energy specialists came from Durham and Newcastle to add environmental and political arguments against this, and any other coal application. Guy Hutchinson, from the Institute of Sustainability, said that in terms of CO2 emissions burning the coal from this site would cost the economy £98 million in damages, this including 150,000 deaths worldwide from climate change. In addition the methane released from the extraction, which is a stronger greenhouse gas would need to be considered. Because of this, the social cost of the application was always going to be higher than the benefits and so should not go ahead.
Tom Bradley said it is, ‘horribly naïve that burning this coal will prevent it [coal] being mined elsewhere.’ In relation to UK Coal’s continued assertions that it is better to mine this coal here than import it. Arguing that all coal is destructive to the communities who live next to mines and we need to move away from it as an energy source entirely. He said that 97.1% of scientists agree that climate change is a real threat. He stated the 2008 Climate Change Act- an 80% reduction of CO2 (from a 1999 baseline) by 2050.
This would need a 25% reduction by 2020 so this application contravenes government policy.
Local MP Pat Glass said that, ‘UK Coal’s financial situation completely undermines the inquiry.’
‘The biggest objection I have is the impact it would have on my constituents.’ She said that coal mining is the second biggest reason that her constituents are concerned about and expressed ‘deep admiration and gratitude for their efforts.’ Referring to the Pont Valley Network’s fight for the area.
Local independent councillor Mr Litchfield said that ‘Our environment is the keystone to our future.’ He highlighted the damage that this application would do to employment in the area, saying that the 38 jobs UK Coal mention is fewer than those employed between the two nursing homes close to the site. ‘Who will come to them next to an opencast?’
The next company speaker of the week was Mr. Hammond.
He said that the ‘wagonway as a whole was regionally important.’ but advocated digging part of it up and replacing it several years later with a sign saying in once ran there. He contested the precise route of the historic wagonway, but conceded to a question from the audience that it did definitely cross the site.
Once again the company suggested that the ‘degradation’ of the land, (overgrown hedges, falling down walls etc) would be remedied by the mine, which entirely ignores that UK Coal owns the site and can ensure it’s upkeep. Locals and wildlife all seem to enjoy its unkempt nature.
The last UK Coal speaker was Mr Hepworth, talking about noise and blasting. He didn’t seem to appreciate that the reason many of the people in the area chose to live there was for the tranquillity and repeatedly said that many people have to live with noise greater than that expected from the site.
Next week should be the last week of the enquiry.