Disregard for mine conditions infuriates councillors - but changes given go-ahead

Northumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council

Councillors were frustrated that planning conditions at an opencast mine in the extreme west of Northumberland had been ignored – but still allowed them to be changed.

Residents in the Halton Lea Gate area, on the border with Cumbria, had already been fighting the threat of surface mining for more than a decade, when an application by HM Project Developments to extract 140,000 tonnes of coal was rejected by the council in 2011.

However, in August the following year, it was approved on appeal by a planning inspector, with a series of conditions and restrictions being imposed.

The application which went before the authority’s strategic planning committee this week sought to change three of these conditions.

But members were less than impressed when they heard that the applicant had already been doing what they wanted permission for since operations started back in 2016, with one describing it as ‘outrageous’.

However, it was pointed out that this application had been with the council since November that year, plus mining is due to finish in August this year.

Two of the conditions related to the introduction of a coal-washing plant and a series of lagoons to filter and recirculate the water, which had not been given permission, while the other meant that the HGVs going to the site had to be rigid-axle vehicles with the operator wanting to use articulated lorries as well.

The planning officer’s report to yesterday’s (February 5) meeting explained that this condition was originally required due to the junction onto the A689, but a new access has since been created which ‘is more suitable for articulated vehicles to manoeuvre’.

However, the condition ‘also arose out of concerns raised regarding the route from the site to the A69 through a number of villages’ and William Howard School in Brampton had expressed concerns about this latest application.

To mitigate this, the use of articulated vehicles will not be allowed ‘through appropriate settlements in Cumbria’ between 8am and 9am, and 3pm and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, which will require a change to the section 106 legal agreement as Northumberland’s planning authority would have no jurisdiction to enforce a planning condition outside the county.

Coun Jeff Reid said: “I can’t say I’m impressed. I realise there’s nothing we can do about it, it’s near the end and there haven’t been any accidents, but what if there had been a terrible accident and they hadn’t been adhering to the conditions?”

Coun Barry Flux asked if there was any point imposing the school-hours restriction on the HGVs given that ‘they haven’t paid a ha’penny of notice’ to other conditions.

But Coun Rupert Gibson pointed out that Cumbria County Council had said that ‘the impact on the local network might in fact be reduced by allowing this

condition to be varied’, adding that he agreed that articulated vehicles do less damage.

Closing the debate, Coun Reid said: “The reason I moved it was that the neighbourhood’s only going to have to suffer this for another six months so let’s get it over and done with.”

The amendments were unanimously approved by the committee, although there was a call for members’ disappointment that the conditions had been flouted to be made plain to the applicants.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service