CONTROVERSIAL plans for an opencast coal mine on 200 acres of farmland at Bignall End have been dropped following a two-year campaign of opposition by villagers supported by Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly.
Planners at Staffordshire County Council announced that administrators acting for cash-strapped developers, UK Coal, had withdrawn the company’s application to extract 450,000 tonnes of coal and clay from the site at Great Oak.
The decision was welcomed by the local residents who formed the Campaign Against Great Oak Opencast (CAGOO) to spearhead opposition to the plans which they feared would damage the local environment and cause excessive noise and dust as well as harm to wildlife.
Mr Farrelly paid tribute to the Group’s campaign and described the outcome as “a fantastic victory for people power.”
Last year Mr Farrelly wrote to both the Government and the company calling for the proposals to be shelved because of the strength of public opposition as well as the firm’s mounting financial problems which, he warned, had cast doubts on its ability to complete restoration of the site when coal extraction came to an end.
The land at Great Oak site adjoins the site of the infamous Diglake Disaster of 1895 which resulted in the deaths of 77 men and boys. A total of 70 bodies were never recovered from the flooded mine workings and campaigners argued that the site should have been protected from development.
Mrs Claire Barnish, who chairs the campaign committee, said: “Naturally we are delighted by the news. This development was not only harmful to our environment, but also stirred memories of a painful chapter in the community’s history as a mining village.”
Mrs Hansbury also paid tribute to the support of MP Paul Farrelly who, she said, had given direction to their campaign. “Paul has helped to make sure our voices were heard in the right places and without that support we would have struggled.”
If the company’s application had been approved, it would have led to “an unwelcome return to coal mining in an area that has paid too heavy a price for this industry in the past,” Mr Farrelly said.
“The site was not identified as suitable for mineral extraction in the Local Plan and should never have been considered as appropriate for this kind of development in the first place.
“Local families have suffered enough from the adverse effects that mining has had on their lives and should not have had to endure the anxieties caused by this application.
”With the campaign group, I will be discussing what moves we can now make together to try and protect this site from any further prospect of mining development,” he added.
Paul is pictured with County Councillor Ann Beech (centre) and campaigner organiser Claire Barnish at a protest march through the village last March.