Solidarity with the Pont Valley protection camp! Dipton says no to open-cast!

Protesters say 'No Thanks Banks' at the Pont Valley site

Local people in the Consett area of County Durham and environmental campaigners from far and wide have launched a spirited campaign against open-cast mining on their doorstep.

Coal companies have been trying to extract by open-cast at the Bradley site for at least 30 years, with Durham county council rejecting planning permission in 1986, 2001 and 2011. Pont Valley is a diverse habitat, home to protected species like great crested newts, badgers, curlews and snipe. In 2015 a planning inspector overrode the council, granting planning permission to UK Coal for extraction to begin within three years. UK Coal subsequently went bankrupt, however, in January 2018 the notorious Banks Group took over the rights and stated their intention to begin mining before the deadline passed on 3 June 2018. Houses at High Stables are less than 300 metres from the site and the village of Dipton is less than a mile away. If the open-cast goes ahead residents can expect to feel seismic shocks from daily explosions. More worrying, Dipton is downwind from the site with the recent felling of a forest leaving the village and its primary school poised to be dangerously exposed to coal dust proven to be harmful to children’s health.

Though Banks argue that the open-cast will provide jobs, spokesperson Lewis Stokes admitted in May that only 20-25 jobs would be created. Given that a huge Banks open-cast mine in nearby Cramlington is shutting down, and in March Banks were prevented from creating an open-cast mine in Northumberland’s Druridge bay, most of these jobs will be taken by existing employees. The Bradley open-cast only has a three year lifespan and coal use in Britain has dropped to less than 7% of power generation, with the aim to phase out coal completely by 2025. As Alan Cummings, Durham Miners Association Secretary commented:

‘The Durham Miners Association has opposed open-cast mining for many decades and support the locally led campaign to protect Pont Valley in Co. Durham. It damaged deep mining in the past and now threatens to ruin our environment for no perceivable benefit. Our communities have suffered enough with the decline of the coal industry and they do not need to have more injury added to insult.’

Consett will again be left with nothing, no investment, no jobs, just a gaping hole and lungs full of dust.

In opposition to such exploitative plans, activists have launched a committed campaign, building a protest camp (which has twice been forcibly destroyed by Banks and Durham police), combining direct action, community outreach and regular Saturday family-friendly protests. Durham County Council have failed to put up a fight this time around; the planning unit admitted that Banks have not completed any prior dust monitoring and a dust plan was only drawn up in March 2018, preventing accurate measuring of the impact of dust. Despite this, excavation has begun on the site. Over 30 people have been arrested and a vicious campaign to divide the community against the camp has been launched via social media and local press, however the protests continue apace in the run up to the 3 June deadline. Campaigner Bobby who lives next to the site explains:

‘The community fund Banks are offering us is £52,000 to split between three villages that border the mine, that’s £5 each. It’s nothing compared to the health risks and environmental damage… All the ministers, councillors, Natural England now just keep saying “they’ve got permission and our hands are tied”, there is a resigned nature to the whole thing – “they’re going to do it anyway and we can’t stop it” – but we can stop it and we have to stop it. Global warming and climate change is a global issue, not just a local issue, though obviously it affects us so personally. We set up camp on 2 March, in deep snow at the beginning of the beast from the East. We got evicted on 19 April on one of the hottest days so far, in just over a month we’ve had sub-zero temperatures up to scorching hot, and if you can’t see that’s an impact of climate change, I don’t know when you’re going to recognise it. There’s a real hope that even if it goes ahead and we lose, this will be the last new open-cast in the country.’

Sam McGill

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