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Newcastle’s MP Paul Farrelly has paid tribute to community campaigners whose defiant protests have helped to lift the threat of coal mining facing a 200-acre area of countryside at Great Oak in the local village of Bignall End.
Staffordshire County Council has now approved a ‘Draft Minerals Plan’ showing sites where excavation will be allowed over the next 15 years and, crucially, it excludes the land at Great Oak, where UK Coal wanted to excavate 450,000 tonnes of coal.
For more than three years, residents - supported by Mr Farrelly - argued that the plans would generate noise and nuisance at a sensitive location that adjoins the site of the Diglake Mining Disaster of 1896, in which 77 men and boys drowned in an underground flood.
A total of 70 were never recovered from the disaster site and residents have argued that the whole area should be saved from any further uncertainty about future development.
UK Coal later went into administration before withdrawing its proposals in the face of concerted opposition led by the Campaign Against Great Oak Opencast (CAGOO).
Welcoming news that the site has finally been reprieved, Mr Farrelly said residents would be delighted and relieved to learn that their community would be spared the unwelcome prospect of a return of opencast mining.
“This community - like the rest of Newcastle - has paid a heavy price for mining in the past and this announcement will be a relief for so many people who have been living in fear that it would be making a comeback locally,” he said.
As part of their campaign, residents linked up with local schools and voluntary groups in a community-wide alliance that lobbied Parish, Borough and County councillors to demand a halt to UK Coal’s proposals.
“Their campaign of opposition was a tremendous show of community spirit and by persuading the planners to remove the site from the minerals plan, it will now be very hard for another company to make a case for mining or quarrying there.’
"I am delighted on behalf of the people of Bignall End," he said. "This is a fantastic outcome and definitely a cause for Christmas celebration."