Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lobley Hill safe from coal lorries - for now

LIBERAL Democrat councillors who fought plans for a huge opencast mine that would have seen 100 heavy coal lorries a day passing through Lobley Hill have welcomed the decision of the applicant to withdraw their appeal.

Halls of Durham had applied for planning permission to opencast a site at Skons Park, next to the historic Gibside estate.

If granted, 100 heavy lorries would have travelled to the site every weekday.

But the planning application was refused by Gateshead Council after a huge campaign by residents, campaign groups and local Lib Dem councillors.

Halls had appealed to the government’s planning inspectors to overturn the decision and a public inquiry was due to take place in the autumn. But now the appeal has been withdrawn, the inquiry will no longer go ahead.

Lib Dem campaigner Susan Craig said, "It is likely that Halls must have seen that their appeal would not survive the scrutiny of a public inquiry.

"It is unfortunate that Halls have put local councils and the planning inspectorate to such trouble. After all that, they have now accepted that their planning application was inadequate and lacked necessary information.

"However, that was always obvious to those who campaigned against this application and to Gateshead Council’s Planning Department.

"This however is not the end of the story. It is likely that Halls will submit a new application later this year. Those who fought this application last time are, I am sure, ready to do battle again."

The campaign against the opencast plans was led by local Liberal Democrats. Councillor Jonathan Wallace wrote the petition against the application and handed in thousands of signatures to Gateshead council opposing the application.

There are concerns that Labour may back more opencast mining in the future. A debate in Parliament led by the Labour MP for Blaydon in 2005 resulted in the government minister expressing concern that not enough coal was being dug out by opencast companies.
Photo: Susan Craig, left, joins Lobley Hill resident Nigel Evans, North East England Lib Dem Euro MP Fiona Hall and Councillor Yvonne McNicol from Dunston Hill, to warn about the dangers of opencast lorries at the top of Lobley Hill.

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