Save Pont Valley: Local residents take direct action against new opencast coal mine

YLNM Members Coal Action Network share a story from the frontlines of the Save Pont Valley Campaign, where two local residents have blocked Banks Mining’s on-going efforts to dig a new opencast in County Durham, UK.

Originally published by CAN. 15/05/18

This morning (15/05/18) two Durham residents living just 300m from the controversial Bradley opencast coal extraction, blocked the gates to the work site for three hours, before being dangerously moved by the police.

Banks Group is trying to complete an access road and start extracting coal and the local people are trying to hamper its efforts. If the mine were to go ahead the dust billowing from it would put the health of the community at risk, by increasing asthma rates and other respiratory diseases.

The site has been the focus of intense protest since February, when Banks started to remove an ancient boundary hedge. Delayed by many weeks time is short for both the coal company and those fighting to stop the mine. If Banks do not complete the preparatory works by the 3rd June 2018 then planning permission will lapse and the valley be saved from the ravages of opencasting.

Neither of the residents has taken illegal direct action before, or been arrested but they felt that they have been left with no choice but to physically stop work.

One of the residents, who is part of the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley, ‘Bobbi’ said, “It has taken me a long time and a lot of thought to end up where I am today. I have watched this area, and the community in which I am very much part of, fight this opencast application for my whole life. I have enjoyed the valley from being a very small child, and can’t imagine it not being there for my children one day to enjoy.

Banks Group announced at the beginning of January 2018 that it intends on working the opencast coal extraction which was given planning permission in June 2015 following two public inquiries.

Local people and those from further away have been trying to delay work and stop the mine by asking the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to revoke planning permission, pressing for police action to stop the wildlife crimes Banks Group are committing and appealing to Durham County Council.

The other person blocking the access road says, “My name is Thomas Davison and I live in Pont Valley only 300 meters away from the contested opencast project. I have the right to defend my house from earth tremors caused by frequent dynamite explosions. I have the right to defend my community from harmful dust pollution. I have the right to defend the wildlife and ecosystems I have grown up with my whole life that would be destroyed. I have the right to defend our global climate against the destructive burning of fossil fuels.

Both residents feel that they have been pushed to take this form of action because they are not being listened to when other means have been used.

‘Bobbi’ continues, “I live 300m away from the site, this is something I feel incredibly strong about. We have tried all of the ‘correct’ paths. We have written countless letters, had support from council officials, and signed many petitions. Over the last five months we have consistently had the door slammed in our faces, everywhere we have turned. Every step forward feels like it has been followed by two steps back, and the paths that seem so promising seem to have bowed to the power and money in front of them. In my opinion we have no other option but to take Direct Action. I have not taken this decision lightly.”

Banks Group want you to believe our campaign of over thirty years does not reflect views of local people. Today my neighbor and I are here to show otherwise. We are here on behalf of everyone who has fought for this campaign. I am sure Banks Group will still find some way to dismiss us, ignore us, tell you we are merely illegitimate protestors. I ask you to see us, hear us, join us and stand with us. Only together may we defeat this threat to the Pont Valley, this is not over we can still stop the opencast.” concludes Thomas.

After three hours the police dangerously picked up and carried both people, still attached to the lock on to the otherside of the road. At this point the two unlocked as they were no longer affecting work on the site. The police carried them without using boards to prevent injury and both people cried out in pain.

The Campaign to Protect Pont Valley continues to fight to stop this ecologically destructive project which would contribute to climate change causing mass extinctions as well as hurting the health and well being of the community it is located within.

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