Monday, 22 July 2013

You Can Make Me Coal Again

Last year I spoke at a public enquiry into the council's decision to refuse planning permission for an opencast coal mine in the Pont Valley1. I pointed out the ecological impact of the proposed development on an area containing several diverse habitats. The planning inspector found in concordance with local opinion that the opencast should not be granted planning permission. This was a victory for local activists but it turns out that the decision was not final; UK Coal the went to the high court and have managed to get a high court judge to rule that the planning inspector acted illegally when he took local opinion into account, when what they should have done was give more weight to the county council's mineral plan.

What this proves is that if you have enough money and an expensive lawyer, you can ignore localism and have a judge in London overturn a decision that was made in Leadgate workingmen's club in County Durham.

I dont know how UK Coal have the money to pay for this protracted legal fight. They have recently gone into administration and are now owned by their own pension fund which is an unusual business practice. 350 workers will be made redundant and those who remain are expected to take a 10% cut to their pension. There is yet another name change, to UK Coal Production.

UK Coal are having to steal from retired miners in order to keep the company afloat; they are in a very unstable position. This puts a massive question mark over any restoration strategy they propose. They only propose restoration in order to get planning permission. Even successful restorations result in huge damage to habitat and a massive reduction in biodiversity2. They are now even more likely to cut and run as soon as the coal is out, leaving permanent scars on the landscape, and the community in a never-ending battle to get things sorted.

During the public enquiry I argued that the restored land would have lower biodiversity. I submitted copies of my argument to both the planning inspectors and to UK Coal and I was then cross examined by UK Coals barrister. They have all the information which led to the original conclusion which is unfair. When I speak at the new public enquiry they will have their counter arguments ready. The whole process is stacked in favour of the developer and against local people.

The finances of UK Coal and damage to the environment are issues which can not be separated: If planning permission depends on ecological restoration then it can not be granted. I didn't trust UK Coal on restoration. I trust UK Coal Production, with its dubious financial arrangements, even less.

3. Object by writing to:
4. Sign the petition:
5. Pont Valley in Pictures:

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