Development company Banks Group has until the 3rd June 2018 to start open pit coal mining at the ‘Bradley’ site near Dipton and Leadgate in County Durham. By 2021 approximately 550,000 tonnes of coal  could be extracted unless Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, appeals the decision following public outcry.
Local residents and anti-coal activists are opposing the projects on the grounds of negative health impacts associated with opencast mining (such as asthma and respiratory problems), climate change and the contradiction to the UK’s coal phase-out pledge, and the impact on local ecology. The site is currently mainly agricultural land, home to red kites, badgers, bats, great crested newts, common blue butterfly, barn owls as well as less obvious but equally vital plants and fungi.
Following the removal of trees and an ancient hedgeline by Banks Group for the building of an access road to the site, activists organised a tree-top protest in sub-zero temperatures, and on Friday 2nd March 2018 the Pont Valley Protection Camp was established. In this camp activists or ‘climate protectors’ intend to blockade the site until the permit expires on 3rd June.
An alliance of local residents, the national campaign group Coal Action Network, Pont Valley Network, Derwent Valley Protection Society, and the Burnopfield Environmental Awareness Movement have appealed to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in a letter  urging him to use his powers under the Town and Country Planning Act  to revoke Banks’ ‘Bradley’ permit, which has received support from an online petition . National activists are mobilising around this conflict, organising skill-sharing workshops in anticipation of further resistance .
The opening of a new coal mine at this time is particularly controversial as in November 2017 the government launching the international ‘Powering Past Coal Alliance’, identifying carbon pollution from coal a leading contributor to climate change and aiming to “lead the rest of the world in committing to an end to unabated coal power.  Opponents argue the opening of a new coal mine would contradict the UK’s commitment of completely phasing out unabated coal-fired power generation no later than 2025. The validity of the basis of ‘national benefit’ upon which the permissions were granted is also questioned: “In July 2012 the UK’s energy generation profile still included 40% coal. In July 2017 , this fell to 2% and in April, the UK had its first full day when no coal was used for 135 years” .
This is not the first coal mine to be opposed in the area, with proposals contested for decades. Pitch Wilson, local resident and Secretary of community group ‘Derwent Valley Protection Society’ explains “For 50 years we have battled to save the Derwent valley, against ten appeals by mining companies, which were dismissed as each inspector said the environment is more important than the need for coal, even during miners strike and the oil crisis in the 70s.”
UK Coal Mining Ltd had their first application on this site rejected by planners in 1986, and in 2001 a second application was also rejected. Application for planning permission was again submitted in December 2007 by UK Coal for surface mining. Durham county Council refused permission in 2011 as community benefits would not outweigh “the unacceptable impact on the environment and amenity of local communities”. After several rounds of appeal, planning permission was granted in June 2015, identifying the national benefit of coal. The community believed the liquidation of UK Coal in 2015 meant there was no longer a threat of mining, however Banks Group announced in January 2018 that it intended to work the permissions granted before they expire on 3rd June .
Banks Group are also awaiting the outcome of a decision from Sajid Javid about the controversial mine planned for Druridge Bay, Northumberland, due to be announced by early March.