The final week of the Bradley opencast saw a damning presentation from a local farmer, which disarmed the coal company. The ecologists view of the site was countered by excellent knowledge of local residents who know the site. The bitter disagreement about whether there are bell pits on the site continued and the transport expert tried to tell us that more HGVs on the road would not be a problem. Their planning expert said that footfalls on the footpaths were not high, whilst the locals countered that it’s tranquillity is the attraction and that 5 people a day is important.
Karen Thompson told the history of her family’s farmhouse at Billingside (in the centre of the site) which was only 20 years old when it was destroyed by a coal company with the hope of mining underneath. UK Coal would like us to believe that what is left fell to ruins, rather than the reality that it was bulldozed. Karen also spoke of her experiences of farming her current farm which includes land which was restored from opencast 25 years ago and that which was ‘restored’ from Stoney Heap opencast, the most recent coal mining in this area.
Karen showed photographs of two of her lambs, one of which was older and reared on the Stoney Heap site and a younger, much larger healthier animal which was raised on land which had never been mined. The difference was striking. Karen explained that the smaller lamb ‘has succumbed to a range of clostridial diseases which he picked up from grazing on restored opencast land.’ The differing conditions of the grassland could clearly been seen in photos taken just weeks ago and the ewes choose to feed on the land which has not been opencast. They can sense the differences the laboratory results showed on soil samples of restored land and the un-mined land, the ‘composition of metals and minerals was totally out of sync on the opencast land.’ UK Coal want us to believe that the restoration techniques have improved and that this is an example of good restoration (according to their planning expert Mr Dickinson). UK Coal have received awards for their restoration at Stoney Heap, but the site is clearly not worthy of them.
Karen listed many of the conditions the government puts on farmers with regard to how the land is maintained, such as removal of ragwort, which UK Coal hasn’t done on the Stoney Heap site and the discussed the difficulty UK Coal has had in selling the ‘restored’ sites at auction. Not a single big was placed for this land. There are areas of Stoney Heap where there is no top soil as it blew away when the site was worked and has not been replaced. She showed how farmers have to complete DEFRA’s Soil Protection Review every year. Which says, ‘When soil is lost or damage through compaction, erosion or loss of organic matter it becomes less productive. It can also have a significant impact on water quality and aquatic ecosystems, contribute to localised flooding from increased run off, and cause problems such as soil on roads. In addition, the majority of carbon lost from soils by erosion will eventually be released to the atmosphere and contribute to climate changed.’ This all sounds like advice which UK Coal chooses to ignore.
Eric Morton disagreed with many of the ecologists assertions about ecology and the state of the Stoney Heap site with further photographs of the blocked footpaths, unnatural straight tree lines and stunted tree growth. He described the life-cycle of the newts and how immature newts can stay away from ponds for 2-3 years and so would be killed by the opencast as the area they live in is destroyed.
The penultimate exercise was a depressing one. The council and the coal company create a 106 agreement and conditions. These are meant to ensure the standards are maintained if the site is given permission. The disheartening aspect of this is that to engage with it local people have to envisage that we have lost this fight. It doesn’t mean that the application will go through however. The reason it was felt important to get involved was to try to get the best deal from the situation from the coal company were the appeal to succeed.
The main points the Pont Vally Network were arguing for were:
- A reduction in time and noise level, if not removal, of the condition allowing noise to exceed the accepted maximums from a potential of 24 weeks a year, every year.
- Proportional temporary noise levels to be reduced for Douglas Terrace as the normal noise limit there is lower
- Explicit involvement of community representatives at the site meetings in the after care period
- A commitment to involve local schools and more that 6 people to be present at archaeological digs
- Strict measures to ensure that HGV drivers are responsible
- Wheel washing of HGVs
- A minimum fund of £52,000 for the community fund not a maximum
- A clear starting time frame
- Spot checks on dust, noise and water pollution
Some of our changes were actually included already. The documents are a little confusing as they refer to many other documents. Some the Inspector said weren’t planning areas, like putting complains numbers on the back of HGVs.
The council were fighting for some of these changes, particularly clarity over the time frame in which work would have to start.
Today, Friday 24th October, UK Coal, Durham County Council and Mr Wilson from CPRE are made their closing statements. A site visit will happen next week, a working site visit early in November and a re-convention of the appeal to exchange the 106 agreement at the end of November. The Coal Action Network send the local people our best wishes and hope not to see them in another appeal inquiry.
The decision is not expected until next year.