Villagers are facing the risk of a renewed environmental blight from plans to revive open cast coal mining in a rural area of North Staffordshire, MP Paul Farrelly has warned.
Newcastle’s MP has told energy giant UK Coal that he has serious concerns about its plans to carry out preliminary ‘scoping proposals’ before submitting a planning application for an 80-hectare site at Great Oak, Bignall End in his constituency.
The site is said to contain around 450,000 tonnes of coal, but is in a highly sensitive area, close to the location of the former Diglake Colliery where 80 local men and boys drowned in an underground flood in January 1895.
The company expects to submit plans to Staffordshire County Council later this year. Coal extraction would last for 15 months and UK Coal says it would complete all work within two years before restoring the site to farmland, with lorries travelling to and from the site via Jamage Road and Talke Road.
But Mr Farrelly warned that the scheme was already causing serious environmental concerns for residents locally in Bignall End, Chesterton and Red Street and that its proximity to the site of the Diglake disaster site could also nurture community resentment.
In a letter to UK Coal, he said: “The site is especially sensitive and any proposals to renew mining there could well aggravate deep-rooted concerns. I would be very interested to know whether the company has any plans to formally recognise the sensitivity of the site.
“While I accept that it is the company’s intention to direct lorries to Jamage Road and Talke Road, I would welcome an assurance that this would be included in any eventual planning application.
“For these reasons I would strongly encourage the company to undertake prolonged and open dialogue with the local community and elected councillors before submitting its eventual plans in detail,” he said.
The revival of coal mining has attracted renewed interest across Britain in recent years and is seen by its advocates as a means of stimulating economic recovery and helping energy self-sufficiency.
Mr Farrelly says, however, that it is very doubtful whether any return of open cast mining would have any sustainable economic impact that would outweigh the resulting environmental damage.
“I have been the first MP for Newcastle not to have a working pit in the constituency since the closure of the Silverdale mine in 1998. We are all only too well aware, too, of the legacy of open cast in the past, and all the efforts to landscape our area to undo the damage,” Mr Farrelly said.
“In my time, the presumption has always been against any return of open cast mining for those very reasons, and I would urge companies like UK Coal - and also the County Council, which gives planning permissions over mineral rights – to respect local concerns.”