Joy for miners as villagers despair

NBENBE111017a1, Smalley Lodge house opencast site, Heanor road Smalley, workers celebrate the go ahead of an extension.
NBENBE111017a1, Smalley Lodge house opencast site, Heanor road Smalley, workers celebrate the go ahead of an extension.

CHEERS from relieved mine workers greeted the decision to allow UK Coal to extend workings at its opencast mine in Smalley.

But disappointed villagers are now preparing themselves for an extra two years of noise and dust.

Neil Paget, who chairs Smalley Action Group made up of villagers opposed to the plans, said after the meeting: “We are very disappointed with Derbyshire County Council.

“As the residents, we know what’s best for the area.

“We don’t feel as though they have listened to us at all.

“The meeting went in one direction – the officers’ report was very one-sided.”

They are claiming a small victory, however, after the firm has agreed to hand over half its profits from the extension for improvements to roads and Shipley Country Park and has signed an agreement never to mine the land again.

Mr Paget added: “We’ve made a good thing come out of a defeat.

“We’ve had more than 70 years of opencasting in this area and people have had enough.

“If it wasn’t for residents objecting and putting UK Coal under a lot pressure we wouldn’t have achieved that.”

Derbyshire county councillors voted six to one in favour of the plan, after hearing that UK Coal had agreed to pay £375,000 for local improvements.

The authority received 167 objections, 113 of which were in the form of petitions with 417 signatures.

A major concern was the total of 118 HGV movements per day through Smalley.

Villager Malcolm Millership said during the meeting: “I find it not particularly pleasant to be woken by the crash and bang of lorries going to the site. It is all day, five days a week – every ten minutes there’s an impact.”

UK Coal has said that it will pay £50,000 towards resurfacing the A608 Heanor Road through Smalley.

Other protesters cited issues with noise from the site, dust, and the loss of the green landscape.

Retired engineering designer Allan Easter, 68, lives 400m from the mine on Heanor Road. He said during protests ahead of the meeting on Thursday: “The vista that you see here will go if they extend the operation, full stop.

“At my age it will never return. When it’s gone, that’s it.”

“Since I moved in here in 1968 we have always had the fear of opencasting hanging over our heads.”

A report by the council’s strategic director Ian Stephenson said that noise would be managed on the site and dust levels would be well under permitted levels.

It said the impact on the landscape would ‘come close to the thresholds of acceptability’ but would be ‘mitigated’ by screening the site from view.

UK Coal will also pay £75,000 for work in Shipley Country Park, where operations from the mine will be visible, and £250,000 to a community fund for local projects, to be decided on by a liaison committee of residents.

The greenbelt site will be restored to farm land with ponds and marshland by October 2014, the report said.

Ward councillor Kevin Parkinson, who has fought the plans alongside Amber Valley MP Nigel Mills, said the decision, although ‘disappointing’, may set a precedent for opencast mining applications across the country.

“It has really set a standard for surface mining in England,” he said.

“UK Coal has improved its ways of working and has been very responsive.

“The deal that has been struck here has never been achieved in England and Wales before – it was the right financial deal for the local communities.”

He added: “We made sure from the offset if we could not achieve a refusal we focused on absolutely making sure that the impact is significantly reduced and the financial return is acceptable. We have achieved that.”

A total of 55 people said they were in favour of the extension.

The 48 mine workers at the Lodge House site, most of whom live within 10 miles, have been celebrating after their jobs have been secured for another two years.

John Morley-Payne, of Langley Mill, said during the meeting: “It’s me that’s going to be out of work, and my friends with babies and children.

“Christmas is coming and there’s no work in the community.”

Work at Lodge House is now expected to be completed by early 2014 – two years longer than originally planned.

The site will be extended by 192 acres making a total of 494 acres, and yielding an estimated 748,000 tonnes of coal on top of the 1m tonnes already extracted.

A spokesman for Doncaster-based UK Coal said: “We are delighted that the merits and benefits of this scheme have been recognised by the county council.

“We are particularly pleased that the importance of this coal reserve has been recognised which will also mean the continuation of around 50 jobs for the next three-and-a-half years.”