A COAL mining firm has announced it is looking into digging an opencast mine on the outskirts of Durham – and villagers are already gearing up to fight the proposals.

Hargreaves Surface Mining is preparing proposals to mine coal from open countryside between Low Pittington and West Rainton.

Geological surveys have begun and public exhibitions are planned for coming weeks.

A planning application could follow and, if given the go-ahead, extraction could last for two-and-a-half years.

Nearby residents are furious at the proposals, saying an opencast would ruin the countryside and generate extra traffic, noise and dirt.

Bill Kellett, chairman of Pittington Parish Council, said: “We are totally opposed to opencasting of this site.

“People live here. The countryside around them would be destroyed.”

Kenny Brown, who has lived in the area for 80 years, said: “It’s a beautiful area. There’s lots of wildlife. It would be the end of it.”

Councillor Kellett plans to mount a petition and wants Hargreaves officials to face villagers’ questions at a public meeting.

The site, known as Field House, is believed to cross both the County Durham-Sunderland border and the constituencies of Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods and Houghton and Sunderland South’s Bridget Phillipson.

Two years ago, it attracted interest from ATH Resources and UK Coal but, after more than 1,000 residents signed a protest petition, no planning application followed.

At the time, Dr Blackman-Woods was campaigning for a legal buffer zone of 500m between opencasts and houses. However, the Private Members’ Bill failed to make it into law.

Today, Dr Blackman-Woods said: “We may not want this site at all, but if we have to have it I will be working to ensure there is a minimum 500m buffer zone so as to at least reduce potential impact on residents and businesses.

“This buffer zone is a legal requirement in Scotland and I see no reason why we should not enforce the same protection here.”

Ms Phillipson could not be contacted for comment.

A Hargreaves spokesman said: “A substantial amount of work has been undertaken to assess the project’s environmental impact and we are to hold two public consultations between now and the beginning of March in order to seek the views of local residents.”

The events will be at Pittington Village Hall on Saturday, February 23, and Jubilee Hall, in West Rainton, on Saturday, March 2, both from 10am to 2pm.

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