BBC Investigates Opencast Mining



A small village, of just 75 households, is all that may stand between preserving large sections of the English countryside and the expressed desire of the UK Mineral Extraction Industry to see more permissions given to exploiting England’s mineral resources in areas that are more environmentally sensitive and / or are closer to where people live.

The unfortunate village is Halton Lea Gate, located on the Cumbria / Northumberland border and near an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A team from the BBC’s Counrtyfile programme was filming there recently to investigate why this spot now finds itself on the front line of a national planning controversy.

 In early August, after a Public Inquiry into an Appeal to grant permission for an Opencast Mine, the Inspector found in favour of the Applicant. The sting in the tale, for all other communities in England, is the reasoning given by the Inspector to allow the Appeal. His reasoning set a new case law precedent, it is argued, which affects all future mineral planning applications in England.

 What the Applicant has to replicate in the future, is the argument used here: that there is a national need for the mineral in question, in this case coal. If they can persuade the Planning Authority (or the Inspector, if the Application has gone to an Appeal) that this is the case, then ‘great weight’ has to be attached to this claim. So much weight it seems, that this factor alone may override all other considerations.  (1)

This situation has arisen as a consequence of the Government implementing the new National Planning Policy Framework. In the time leading up to the 2010 election, lobbying organisations such as Coalpro and the CBI lobbied long and hard for a relaxation of the planning rules for mineral extraction. (2) It seems, from this example, the first Public Inquiry for mineral extraction to be held under the new rules, that their efforts have been rewarded. The advice of the Inspector has now gone to the Department of Communities and Local Government to be confirmed or rejected by a Minister.

The BBC came to investigate the issue and explore why local people have taken on the task of raising £40,000 so that they can mount a Judicial Review over the decision. If local people are successful in raising the money and mounting a successful action, they may have prevented the floodgates from opening and saved England from experiencing a rash of mineral planning applications for developing swathes of the countryside. This is now a Public Appeal, and donations can be made payable to The North Pennines Protection Group, who have been one of the local groups who have opposed this Application

An e petition to the Government has been started about this planning decision and its implication for similar planning decisions elsewhere which can be signed by following this link:

Steve Leary for the Loose Anti Opencast Network commented

“ LAON was contacted by the BBC in the lead up to filming for the Countryside programme. We are delighted to be able to cooperate in the making of the programme and show why we argue that this is an issue of national importance which will affect other communities up and down the Country if the decision is not changed.

We know of five other opencast mine applications, near Smally in Derbyshire (George Farm) , Kirklees, Sth. Yorkshire (Dearne Lea), Trowel in Nottinghamshire (Shortwood Farm) , Whittonstall in Northumberland ( Hoodsclose) and Gateshead  (Birklands) that will be affected by this decision if it stands.

In addition, we are aware of three other sites where a potential applicant is making the final decision to proceed with a full application in Gateshead,   Marley Hill Reclamation) , Derbyshire ( Hill Top Project near Clay Cross) and Northumberland  (Ferneybeds near Widdrington Station, Northumberland) which might also be affected.

The issue here though, we believe, goes way beyond opencast mining. It’s about relaxing the rules around all forms of mineral extraction from pits for sand, gravel and clay to quarries for granite and limestone to opencast mines for coal. This is what the industry lobbied for and now, it seems, the Government has delivered, if it upholds the Inspector’s recommendation to approve the Application and the Judicial Review fails. We therefore urge people everywhere, who cherish and love our countryside, to support both the petition and the public appeal for money to take this case to a Judicial Review.”

The Counrtyfile edition of the programme is to be broadcast on Sunday 30th September 2012. It will include a 12 minute section on the Halton Lea Gate issue.



1)   For more information on the significance of this decision as far as opencast mine applications are concerned see  LAON PR7 here

2)   Evidence about the lobbying to relax these planning rules can be found here.

Briefing Note E2 “Energy Policy and the Proposed National Planning Policy Framework,” MOPG 2011  @



The Loose Anti-Opencast Network (LAON) has been in existence since 2009. It  functions as a medium through to oppose open cast mine applications through which any person / group can communicate ideas, information, requests for information and possibly concerted actions if we find a target. In addition feel free to invite any other person / group who oppose opencast mining applications, to join the network so that it grows. At present LAON links individuals and groups in N Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Northumberland, Co Durham, Leeds, Kirklees Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Walsall.

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