PLANS to extract coal from a former colliery spoil heap next to a rural village have provoked a storm of protest from residents.

Hargreaves Surface Mining proposes the reclamation of a mound at Hesleden, east Durham, citing health and safety reasons - including a history of spontaneous combustion and slope slippage.

The company has applied to Durham County Council seeking permission to remove 270,000 tonnes of material over a 20-month period and to restore the land.

But residents of Hesleden and neighbouring Castle Eden say only the company stands to gain, while they will suffer traffic misery, noise, vibration, dust, fumes and health problems.

About 50 residents have sent letters of objection to the council, while a further 200 people have signed a petition - and Monk Hesleden parish councillors have voted unanimously against the plans.

Eddy Ruocco of Gray Avenue, Hesleden, said “It is going to cause untold misery.

“We are going to have 50 heavy goods vehicles driving passed our houses from 7am to 7pm from Monday to Friday. And they will operate from 7am to noon on Saturdays.

“There is a dangerous bend on the A1281 making it difficult to see approaching traffic when turning out from Gray Avenue.

“It will also impact on users of the national Cycle Route (next to the site). That is apart from all the health problems that will be caused by dust and toxic fumes.”

Mr Ruocco said records showed there had been no major fires over the last 19 years.

A spokesperson for Hargreaves Surface Mining said: “We are aware of the views of an element of the local community and have received a mix of feedback on the proposed development.

“Concerns over potential impacts can all be managed with careful planning and we are confident that any issues can be dealt with.

“As part of the development process we have also looked at some of the issues arising from the site at the moment, such as anti-social behaviour and unauthorised vehicle usage, which we know are of considerable concern locally.

“We’d also be removing combustible material from this disused former colliery spoil heap and therefore reducing the on-going risk of fire.

“Coal still remains a major element in our all energy needs but this proposal has the on-going safety of the local community and the creation of a sympathetic landscape as its key deliverables.”