Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Halton Lea Gate Mining Meeting

Halton Lea Gate is a windswept village on the edge of the Cumbrian border and near the Pennine Way. The countryside around it has a rough raw beauty. Salmon can be found in its river. The people there are warm, tough but friendly. However when roused their passion is ferocious and they were clearly universally opposed to the plan to mine for coal on a site just behind the village. The Council had organised a meeting to hear objections and allow the developer to make his representations and allay fears. With emotions running high, the develper was not winning any popularity contests.
The village hall was packed with around 250 people, with late attenders literally standing out in the soft rain straining to listen to the debate: everyone was there from the village. I sat at te back near one of the leaders of the opposition, Stan Rowntree.
As a councillor I have listened to many of these meetings. As a lawyer I have read the arguments; and as a campaigner I have put my case with passion in the past. Today I just tried to listen and learn.
There seem to be no environmental benefits, a multitude of reasons to object to the plan and very little economic benefits. It will produce three years of hell for residents, and poses potentially serious health risks. And all for around nine days of coal supply for a power station. It’s not that people are against an open-cast mine – but a mine with such bad access, barely 50 yards from many people’s back doors, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, where we are trying to encourage tourism, seems to make little sense. It should be opposed on strict planning grounds.
The best laugh of the night came when the developer tried to suggest that the risk of coal dust being blown over the homes, childrens play area and the village in general, was slight as it was not that windy.
Amidst the laughter and snorts of derision [Halton Lea Gate is probably the windiest place in all Northumberland] we all listened to the howls of the wind outside.
The excellent local councillor Ian Hutchinson opposes this plan. He was way laid with man flu but is doing sterling work on the village's behalf.
The Courant wrote an interesting report on the meeting.