THE governors of a village school have reaffirmed their objection to a planned opencast coal dig on its doorstep – even though it could cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Whittonstall on the Northumberland-Durham border, face seven years of excavations, coming to within 160m of the village first school.
UK Coal is applying to mine 2.05m tonnes of prime coal and 500,000 tonnes of fireclay from the Hoodsclose site on the eastern fringe of the isolated village. And even though the company has offered £850,000 to the school for a project fund, and a further £400,000 to a community fund, school governors have this week written to Northumberland county planners to underline their continued opposition.
The governors originally lodged an objection in January 2011, and on November 27 last year wrote again to underline that stance. At a public meeting last week council delegates said they did not regard the governors’ letter as a statement of objection.
However, county councillor Anne Dale, chair of governors at the school, told The Journal: “The governing body wishes to make it clear that the letter of November 27, 2012, to the planning department was always intended to be, and treated as, a formal objection to the proposed application.
“In addition, our original letter of January 2011 is registered as an objection.”
There are major concerns in the community at the scale of the proposed opencast operation, and yesterday The Journal revealed that the parents of a six-year-old pupil with a severe lung condition could be forced to take him out of the school if the opencast scheme gets the go-ahead.
Coun Dale added: “The governing body has asked the county council to deal with safeguarding issues about the proximity of the work to the school as a special issue.”
A decision on the opencast scheme is due to be made by county planners in the next two months.
UK Coal’s application has enraged the community, who say their peaceful, rural way of life will be destroyed by the site operation.
A total of 466 objections have been received and Val Barnes, of the Whittonstall Action Group opposing the application, said last week’s public meeting at Snods Edge provided evidence of the weight of feeling in the area.
She said: “It is hoped that all the many and disparate concerns and objections raised will be taken seriously and respectfully into account in assessing the application. Equally, too, the overwhelming weight of public opinion against the opencast, evidenced by the heated debate which ensued within the hall, has to be recognised.”
A Northumberland County Council spokesperson said last night that 228 letters supporting UK Coal’s application have also been received.
The spokesperson added: “The letter of November 2011 from the governors of Whittonstall First School was ambiguous in its wording and did not explicitly say it was an objection to the proposal, which is why it was considered as a representation as opposed to a letter of objection or a letter of support.
“Planning officers have since received a letter from Coun Anne Dale, clarifying that the November letter is an objection and so it will be considered as such.”