A 200-acre area of open countryside at Bignall End has been dropped from Staffordshire’s minerals plan – to the joy of villagers and Newcastle’s MP Paul Farrelly who fought a concerted campaign to safeguard it from coal mining.
The land at Great Oak has been excluded from the County’s new draft Minerals Plan – the statutory document used by planners to identify mineral deposits available for extraction.
Exclusion of the Great Oak site follows vociferous opposition by residents who argued that carrying out opencast coal mining there would harm the environment and cause excessive noise and dust.
The Great Oak land adjoins the site of the infamous Diglake Disaster of 1895 in which 77 men and boys drowned in an underground flood. A total of 70 bodies were never recovered from the flooded mine workings and residents argued that the whole area should be saved from development.
Developers, UK Coal, submitted an original application to extract 450,000 tonnes of coal at Great Oak in 2008, but went into administration last year before withdrawing their proposals in the face of fierce opposition from Mr Farrelly and residents who formed the Campaign Against Great Oak Opencast (CAGOO).
Mr Farrelly, who worked alongside local residents to oppose the plans from the outset, was delighted at the decision to remove the Great Oak site from the draft Minerals Plan.
“If UK Coal’s plans had gone ahead it would have led to an unwelcome return to opencast coal mining in a community that has paid such a heavy price for this industry in the past,” he said.
“It would have been simply inappropriate for this area of Green Belt to be dug up and disrupted by UK Coal and I’m delighted that the County planners have listened to me and local people, and made them fully aware of the importance of this site to the community.”
The draft Minerals Plan covers the period from 2015 to 2030 and residents have until the end of July to comment on its proposals before it is formally adopted by the County Council.