The second appeal for the application at Bradley, near Dipton, County Durham is well under way, with UK Coal Surface Mining Limited admitting that they have to sell the site and so will not be operating it.
So far local residents and members of NOTT (No Opencast Today or Tomorrow) part of the Pont Valley Network have made representations to the hearing in several sittings.
The site has been described as a local resident as
“A place to think,
Sit and gaze and stand and gaze”
Local residents submissions have been heart felt and powerful as descriptions are made of how the site is used in work, with family and as a place for solitude. The general feeling amongst the third parties is of tired, unending, determination, some of these people have fought three applications on this site over a period of 27 years. Including locals who are part of 6 generations of one family who have lived in the nearby area.
A local resident, who is mother of two young girls, said that she had not wanted to involve them too much in the process of this application as she teaches her children an important lesson that “No means No.” It doesn’t mean come back and ask someone else and keep badgering people until they capitulate.
Similar sentiments were brought by a mother of 7 and Cub Scout Leader who described UK Coal as a child who asks first mum, then dad if they can have a sweet and get told no. The child goes on to ask Granny who repeats the parents position. The child keeps going and asks Gramps, who says, “oh yes, of course!” She likened UK Coal to this, they just don’t want to listen to No and plan to keep asking until someone gives them the answer they are looking for.
Earlier this week Mr Bolton, the operations expert, explained that UK Coal would not necessarily operate the site. As a requirement of the government’s loan to enable a phased closure of UK Coal’s last remaining deep mines, the company has to sell all of its remaining opencast mines. The applicant in this case, now called Juniper Number Three, are pursuing the re-run of the appeal as only the original applicant can seek an appeal, so this is part of the liquidation attempt to maximise assets. This makes most of the evidence given by UK Coal Surface Mining Ltd irrelevant as another organisation are likely to run the site. Mr Bolton said that the company who buy the site may well choose to keep on much of the staff to keep their experience, but that seems unlikely given that these high level workers were the ones who failed to make a viable business and have been forced by the state to sell the site.
CAN is concerned that the ultimate operator of the site will cut even more corners that UK Coal in order to try and extract the coal cheaper and keep their business afloat where UK Coal, in its varies guises, failed.
There have been some slight changes to the mining and restoration plans expected to be in order to try to placate local people so that the company can show itself in a good light. No one is buying this. The company plan to ‘gift’ an area of grassland mainly bordering the site, with some from the central area, to a local wildlife organisation to manage.
An extract from local resident, Tracy Gillman’s submission gives a realistic sense of why this area matters. ”Walking in the landscape and watching from the bottom of the garden I see hares sprinting across the fields, linnets, wrens, greenfinch, tree-creeper, wood-pecker, robins, hedge-sparrows make a home here. While circling the sky above the proposed site, the ever-present Red Kites call and search for food. Children sledge in the fields every winter, families ramble through the local countryside black-berrying, picking holly for Christmas decorations, elderflowers and berries to make cordials.”
That the people of this area have so far been successful in protecting this site from opencast the area has been positively shaped by this. Examples of this include “The red kite is a powerful symbol of re-generation here in Derwentside, but as Friends of Red Kites North East who have a website that has attracted this year alone over 28,000 visits, as they have said, if open-cast proposals had previously been accepted then this area of would not have been chosen as a nesting site…” also from Tracy Gillman.
A spokes person from The Coal Action Network spoke in the first week giving points on the need for coal, party policy, damage to tourism caused by this proposal especially for cyclists. She also countered claims that the company were genuinely concerned about jobs (as they are loosing 1,300 jobs in the deep mines) and that they care about the environment (opencast mining is more environmentally polluting at the point of extraction than deep mined coal.)
The inquiry is on going with more evidence to be heard from local people and the company, including archaeology, need for coal, hydrology and transport.