Friday, January 04, 2008

Concern over opencast go ahead

LIBERAL Democrats in the Whickham area are warning residents to be ready to fight hard if proposals for opencast mining are resubmitted to Gateshead Council.

The warning was made following the decision by Labour minister Hazel Blears to force through a giant opencast scheme next to Cramlington in Northumberland even though the County Council had rejected the plan.

Ms Blears took the decision to overturn the Council’s rejection of the application in November.

An application for an opencast scheme at Skons Park between Whickham and Rowlands Gill was handed in to Gateshead Council in 2005. Local Liberal Democrat Councillor Jonathan Wallace led the campaign to have the plans thrown out.

Gateshead Council rejected the plan but the applicants, Halls of Spennymoor appealed to government inspectors to allow the opencast scheme to go ahead. Shortly before the appeal was due to be heard, Halls withdrew it. The company stated however that they would return with a new planning application.

“The new application has not yet been submitted,” said Councillor Wallace. “My hope is that Halls will give up.

“However, if they do apply again and are rejected a second time, I am very worried the government will overturn the decision and allow opencast mining to go ahead.

“That is what has happened in Northumberland. The council rejected the plans, and a government minister has now overturned that decision.

“In a debate about opencast mining initiated by Blaydon Labour MP Dave Anderson in Parliament in July 2005, Labour energy minister Malcolm Wicks suggested more opencast mining is needed.

“I am concerned that Labour are set to ruin our countryside and disrupt our towns by backing more openast mining in the North East.

“Hazel Blears’ decision is a green light to mining firms to put in more applications for new opencast schemes as they will feel more confident about support from the government for their plans.”

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