People, Pits and Politics

Two weeks ago, members of the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley went to the People Pits and Politics Festival in Durham. It was great to see climate change high on the agenda with One Million Climate Jobs (panel); Coal, Capitalism and Climate (panel); Just Transition (film); and in the music of Billy Bragg and North East Socialist Singers.

One Million Climate Jobs offers a message of hope from speakers proposing a solution to climate change that also addresses our socio-economic crisis. The One Million Climate Jobs report [] proposes the introduction of one million state-employed, secure, skilled jobs that would directly cut emissions of greenhouse gases. They see communities and workers dignified in long-term, sustainable industries. The proposal is endorsed by 8 national unions, including PCS and UNITE who were both represented at the panel. Clive Lewis, (MP and Shadow minister for energy & industrial strategy), also on the panel, was clearly excited at the potential for these jobs to oversee a transformation of society by changing who owns our energy and the potential for community ownership.

To be most impactful, these climate jobs should be introduced in areas where fossil fuel industries are proposed or active. They say the climate jobs will be much more numerous, for example; in Salford, Fracking is expected to create 420 jobs, whilst climate jobs would be at 4,500. Willie Black, vice-chair of Edinburgh UNITE, who chaired the screening and discussion of Just Transition, highlighted the integral role workers and strong trade unions will play in the success of a just transition away from fossil fuels. It will require a return in strength of trade unions, so they can demand green and dignified jobs, rather than defend every single job because it is a job. Willie Black hopes to see the trade unions take on the slogan – THERE ARE NO JOBS ON A DEAD PLANET. He sees a future of those who are “green trade unionists” and those who are “dead planet trade unionists”.

The trade unionists on the One Million Climate Jobs panel, made specific reference to the importance of continued direct action against the fossil fuel industry. They see trade union strength, the climate jobs and the attack on the fossil fuel industry through direct action and community resistance, all as essential parts of moving us to a sustainable future. We here at Pont Valley will continue our resistance to opencast and hopefully trade unionists can start talking about climate jobs around local communities to us. We too want people in this area to have dignified lives, but that doesn’t come from a 3-year opencast coal extraction, it comes from community-owned industries that help our planet.

Although there are trade unions working towards this vision, there are trade unionists who have felt disregarded and disrespected by ‘the environmental movement’. For a transition to be just, those affected by it must be at the table, for this reason the dialogue between two miners, one representing Durham Miners Association, and one, Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, and a trade unionist supporting a move from the fossil fuel industry, and Coal Action Network, in the Coal, Capitalism and Climate talk was crucial.

The conversation highlighted some tensions. The miners explained that their identity was tied to coal and an attack on coal was an attack on them; that some of our language was insulting to them. But they also repeated [] their position against opencast coal extraction and support for the Pont Valley Campaign. They said opencast extraction destroys the landscapes they have loved with the deepest integrity and cherished on their days outside the pits. That it doesn’t provide jobs and rather than working in the communities’ interest, works in the interest of the companies and the fat cats.

Moreover, the session highlighted how those ‘against coal’ and those ‘for coal’ are united in our values of community interests before profit – united, as the speaker from Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign highlighted, against capitalism. The Campaign to Protect Pont Valley and the struggle of the miners were and are, a fight for communities to self-determine, and not be crushed by private interests.

Our similarities are highlighted by our mutual reception of state and corporate violence. This was highlighted in the session, Facing the State, where Tracey G a representative from both the local community at Pont Valley, Chris Howsam, a self-proclaimed eco-anarchist reverend who has been active both in environmental and peace movements, and Joe Rollins from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, shared their experiences of state and corporate violence used to intimidate communities saying no. Orgreaves saw police stampeding kettled miners and assaulting them viciously with batons. The environmental movement has been attacked with undercover policing with infiltration levels at impregnating activists. Though Pont Valley hasn’t seen anything near that physical violence, the levels of intimidation, wrongful threats of arrest and wrongful arrests is the state using its muscles in face of resistance. One person was arrested for breach of the peace, whilst writing in their notebook at a peaceful Saturday demo; they were held for over 50 hours. Peaceful protests have been given extremely tight, authoritarian boundaries, policed heavily with a pro-active arresting policy. A local street was surveilled by private security and police entered the protectors camp frequently to intimidate, despite clear indication they were not welcome by the protectors or the landowner. When you are a threat to power, corporate or state, you will feel that control the miners felt and we here at Pont Valley also feel.

We are so pleased to have the support of DMA as a campaign and were honored to be marching in the Durham Miners Gala on Saturday. We were really happy to see a wider conversation happening between some of our wider views around climate change and the future of coal and differences being bridged between miners and people from the ‘environmental movement’. We hope that what bonds us continues to allow for more future moments like these and that are differences continue to have respectful space for dialogue.

Campaign Fundraiser

It’s 2018: the devastating impacts of climate change and environmental destruction are here yet we’re still digging up coal as the fossil fuel industry continues to exploit communities on the front line of extraction.

The northeast of England is facing a renewed threat from devastating opencast coal mining. Whilst the government turns a blind eye to climate chaos and impacts on communities, it’s up to people from all walks of life to come together and resist in the name of a better world. Since March 2018, Campaign to Protect Pont Valley has built upon a stoic 30 year local campaign, using direct action and community solidarity to stand up against Banks Mining to disrupt the destruction of the beautiful Pont Valley, County Durham by extracting half a million tonnes of coal. Despite great financial cost, having no social license, evidence of wildlife crimes and breeches of planning conditions, Banks Group have started extracting coal from the valley. This coal is set to fuel the power stations pushing us toward climate breakdown.

Banks Group are appealing the rejection of their application to opencast at the iconic Druridge Bay, Northumberland in October and have another application at Derwley Hill, whilst Hargreaves have started mining near Pittington, Co Durham. These last ditch attempts at money grabbing at the expense of local communities, our climate and transition to renewables, need to be thwarted.

The “Coal Nee More” action and skill-share camp will be running between 5th-9th September will unite frontline communities fighting opencast coal in the northeast and concerned comrades from afar to build a better future. As time runs out to safeguard against climate breakdown, we will take mass direct action to keep coal in the ground. Like radical changes in history, civil disobedience and direct action are key to making the huge change we need. The camp will include workshops so we can learn and share a wide range of skills to further the movement.

Creating this space to take action and coming together isn’t free. We are asking for solidarity to help us cover costs for the camp and wider campaign, including: camp infrastrure hire, printing flyers, venue hire for info events, transport, food/catering, legal costs, accessbility needs.

Thank you for your support, every donation means and is crucial to taking this movement forward. Please join us at the camp if you can. With inclusivity and diversity as our weapons, all are welcome!

More info:


Save Druridge Bay!


Druridge Bay, in Northumberland, the northernmost county of England, is a place of natural beauty with its 7 mile-long coastline, white beaches and sandy dunes, woodlands and nature reserves.

After blasting an opencast in Pont Valley, the Banks Mining company are attempting to dig up Druridge Bay and create the new Highthorn opencast site, a big black dusty hole that would be located right by the local’s favorite beach and 400m away from the dunes. The site would become the UK’s newest and largest opencast mine with up to 250 hectares. Banks plan to extract 3 million tons of coal, sandstone and fireclay.

The plans to opencast have caused widespread opposition, as local residents are concerned about the threats posed by the mine to the wildlife and the local tourism industry. They say that the opencast will spoil the picturesque landscape of the bay. Rare species such as skylarks, lapwings and curlews nest within the proposed site boundaries, meaning that the opencast could damage their breeding habits and accelerate their decline. Locals are also concerned with the damaging impacts the mine will have on their health, as opencast mining releases fine dust into the air, which can create or aggravate respiratory illnesses. The Save Druridge campaign has therefore decided to take a stand against Banks Mining and have funded legal opposition to the mine.

On the 23rd of March, Sajid Javid, previous Secretary of State for Communities, Housing and Local Government, used his power and refused planning permit on grounds that the opencast would have ‘significant adverse impact on the landscape’ and that the scheme would have ‘a substantial adverse effect on Green House Gas emissions and climate change’. In other words, he ruled that the necessity to prevent climate change was paramount. For once, profit and (dirty) energy production didn’t triumph. His recognition of the harm caused by opencast mining to both the environment and the local community is a historical precedent: it is the first planning application to be called in on climate change grounds in the UK and the first coal mine application which had been approved by the local council to be re-decided by the Secretary of State.

However Banks Mining have decided to challenge Sajid Javid’s decision on grounds that ‘there are serious errors in the legal basis on which [the decision] was made’. Managing director Gavin Styles described Sajid Javid’s decision as ‘absolutely perverse’. He said that ‘we fully recognise and accept that there needs to be a stable transition to a low carbon economy, but there will remain a clear and recognised need for coal during this phase out period.’

Opponents of opencast mining widely refute this, and affirm that there is only a small amount of demand for coal in Britain. The country’s dependency on coal has plummeted to under 7% in 2017 compared to over 40.7% in 2013, and in May for 55 consecutive hours, electricity was generated without coal. Anne Harris from the Coal Action Network further demonstrated that there is not a significant demand for coal, as of the eight power stations, only one, Ratcliffe, could be a potential user.

Moreover, Banks Mining challenge of the State Secretary’s decision clearly exposes the company’s sole motivation: profit. The company shows complete disdain for the harms opencast mining will cause to the local community, economy and environment, and shrugs off its responsibility in the global and long-term perspective with coal’s contribution to climate change. Members of the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley have encountered the same attitude from Banks Mining in the campaign’s attempt to save the valley from opencast mining.

Banks have lodge their challenge at the High Court, and the Save Druridge Bay Campaign will appear for the defense on October the 17th. The local campaign has had to hire a Barrister to draw up the Defence document and will require legal representation at the High Court, costs estimated at £10.000. Please donate towards the cause.

We will be standing side by side with campaigners from Save Druridge Bay on October 17th. We need to make sure that mining companies are held accountable and we need take action against their attempt to wreck the land and destroy the livelihood and environment of frontline communities. We need to end the era of fossil fuels.

Photo credits:

Save our Ponds – Stop the Mining

Diversity in the ecological sense is treasured. On a global scale conservationists focus a lot of their time and resources on the protection of the most diverse ecosystems if we are talking land the most diverse area is a tropical rainforest and a fuss is made about deforestation.

Conservationists are actually right to make a fuss in this case and it is right that they focus on the most diverse habit because in campaigning for the protection of the most diverse habitat you protect greatest number of species; you could campaign to save a desert and they need saving, but a square kilometre of desert my only contain a few species and square kilometres of a diverse habitat will contain thousands possibly tens of thousands of different species.

Ponds really are forgotten havens of biodiversity. Hedgerows got a bit of publicity a few years back, people have camped in trees to save them from road expansion but to my knowledge, until the Pont valley protection campers arrived – in the depths of the coldest North east winter for decades – there has never been such a visible Save Our Ponds campaign. The Great Crested Newt has been adopted as the symbol of the campaign to conserve the local habitat.

Over a long time, ponds in the Pont Valley have become more diverse because of the absence of human interference on the site. These ponds importantly are fishless ponds contain a wide variety of insect life including caddis fly and stonefly larve which are good indicators of the health and quality of any freshwater habitat. The ponds are also home to newts including the Great Crested but this scarcely seen amphibian is by no means sole reason that the site should be restored and saved now, before further damage is done. The newt is only part of a more complex web of interaction with many different species.

Banks Group have dug in the Brooms Pond

In the planning application for opencast UK Coal said that they would relocate several mature ponds to a location in the valley that does not lie over a coal seam. The plan for translocation was fundamentally flawed but this work would have conserved some of the diverse species present. It at least showed UK Coals willingness to take into consideration, the ecological sensitivity of the most diverse habitat on site. Instead of working around the ponds, or translocating the rare and protected newts, Banks group chose to excavate within the fenced off area of habitat as one of the very first actions on site. If immediate restoration from initial works is not conducted, recovery from this act of eco-vandalism will take decades. The gradual increase in biodiversity over time will need to start all over again.

Banks group obtained the planning permission from UK coal just before it was due to expire and have already proved that they have less concern for ecology than a company that were formerly UK’s single biggest fossil fuel producer.

During the controversial planning and appeals process, agreements were reached on a variety of issues such as traffic management, working hours, dust monitoring, traffic routes, restoration, a community fund and as well as conservation and translocation. Banks group in the short time since they obtained the permissions shown they are willing to ignore some of these agreements. This sort of behaviour is most concerning, as restoration after opencast in particular is a difficult and time-consuming process, if this surface mining project does continue Banks need to change their current trajectory if assurances made about habitat restoration are to be believed.

Coal is our heritage, not our future.


Urgent: Write to the Secretary of State asking him to stop Bradley

Can you help the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley?

We are asking that you email James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Communities, Housing and Local Government and ask him to stop the Bradley opencast. A template letter is below.

The email address is please copy in, or you can write to Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, Fry Building, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF.

James Brokenshire has the legal authority to stop this mine. We have been told that he is currently reviewing the application.

He can only step in if the original decision was grossly incorrect. Please feel free to personalise the email by adding in your own reasons against the opencast or coal in general. Remember to put your name, full postal address including post code and date the letter.

Your letter could really make a difference.

**Template Letter**



Dear James Brokenshire,

Re. Bradley Opencast Coalmine, Land Adjacent to the A692 Road, known as Bradley, Near Leadgate, Consett, County Durham, DHS 7SL

I am writing to you to request that your department urgently intervenes to stop Banks Group from opencast coal mining at the Bradley, in County Durham.

I understand that you can intervene in developments where the original decision to grant planning permission was grossly wrong and the development is likely to damage the wider public interest, as is laid out in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, under section 100 and 102.

Climate change is a real threat to our everyday lives. Earlier this year your government laid out its methods to phase-out coal by the end of 2025. Due to this and other government policies your predecessor chose to reject an application to opencast 3 million tonnes of coal from Northumberland at Highthorn. It is consistent with this ruling that planning permission at Bradley is now overturned.

The effects of the proposed mine on climate change were not adequately considered at the planning appeal which led to the approval of the Bradley mine. In the Highthorn decision it was deemed that approval would be inconsistent with the Written Ministerial Statement on the Central Government’s

commitment to replace coal-fired power stations as made by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on 18 November 2015.

When planning permission was granted, it was said that “the projected supply of coal should be taken to represent a national benefit carrying great weight.” (Inspector’s Decision para. 91.) In 2015 coal supplied 22% of the UK’s energy, since then dependency on coal has decreased to 6.2% in the last year. ( This shows that the national benefit of this coal was significantly over valued.

The UK Government, along with the Canadian Government, launched the Global Powering Past Coal Alliance in November 2017.The Alliance’s Declaration notes that:

”The health effects of air pollution from burning coal, including respiratory diseases and premature deaths, impose massive costs in both human and economic terms. Recent analysis has found that more than 800,000 people die each year around the world from the pollution generated by burning coal.

As a result, phasing out traditional coal power is one of the most important steps governments can take to tackle climate change and meet our commitment to keep global temperature increase well below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.”

Opencast coal mining also contributes to air borne particulates and as such an increase would cause health problems for those living in the nearest houses to the Bradley site, some lie within 300m of the boundary. In the UK’s current drive to improve air quality it is vital to stop this opencast.

There is significant national interest in stopping this development from proceeding. Intervention is required urgently as the area is being stripped, dust and noise pollution are increasing, biodiversity has been lost and local people are strongly against this application.

I look forward to your response.


The resistance continues

Sunday 3rd of June was the deadline for Banks to trigger planning permission for the opencast site. On the 18th May, Banks announced that they had commenced work on site

The Campaign to Protect Pont Valley disputes this as the mining company hasn’t complied with the section 106 Agreement. Simone Rudolphi, from the campaign says “the s106 is a legally binding contract which states that work on site was not to start until completing the access road. The council claims section 106 is separate to the planning conditions, but this is mere game playing. Banks Mining are in breach of a contract with the Council.”

Durham County Council are the only authority that can hold Banks Mining to account for the breach of the s106 agreement. The Campaign to Protect Pont Valley say that they will continue to challenge the council’s inaction to make sure Banks Mining is held to account for this breach.

Tracy Gilman, local resident and campaigner, says “despite having claimed to have triggered the planning permit, Banks have repeatedly violated other planning conditions. There are unanswered questions about inadequate wildlife mitigation and consequent wildlife crimes, inadequate dust monitoring without a 12-month baseline and cumulative impact, that need to be investigated. Now it’s time to hold them to account for their failure to commence this project according to their planning constraints.

The campaign continues to demand that James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, stop this opencast in line with the department’s decision to refuse Banks Mining planning permission at Druridge Bay. Banks say they have triggered planning permission, but this does not have a bearing on whether the Secretary of State can exercise his powers under the Town and Country Planning Act.

Air quality is a national issue. The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change say the UK coal phase-out could save 1,600 lives and reduce cause a reduction in lower respiratory symptoms by over one million cases a year. Clearly the sooner we stop using coal as an energy source better

Mike Terrison, from the campaign, says that “From the outset the mining company’s money has spoken louder than local people’s voices and so we have been driven to take actions into our own hands. Direct action has been effective in taking a defiant stand against Banks Mining and their intent to destroy the Pont Valley and push us to catastrophic climate change in their endless pursuit of profit. We stand with other communities that are affected by opencast mining or that are threatened by it, like at Druridge Bay.”

Photo credits: Kristian Buus

2nd and 3rd of June blockade

Protestors block road for more than 28 hours over the weekend to stop work on access road of opencast site in County Durham

Protestors fighting against a new opencast coal mine in County Durham have blocked the road in a rolling resistance for more than 28 hours to prevent the mining company, Banks group, to finish building the access road. At 8:30 pm on Saturday 2nd of June, the first pair of protestors were blockading with a ‘lock-on’ device on the closed lane of the A692 between Leadgate and Dipton, in front of the Bradley opencast site. No traffic was affected.

At 6pm the next day, two new protestors locked-on in the same lane whilst the original pair was still in place. All protestors have now been arrested. The protesters prevented road works from 8:30 pm on Saturday; the work recommenced on Monday at 7 pm.

Simon Daniels, one of the protestors locked-on says “I spent four years studying the science behind climate change. Today, I am taking the data to its logical implications. Coal has got to stop. My actions are necessary.”

Protestors say that it is essential to stop Banks Group from building the access road to ensure that the opencast does not go ahead. They say that the mine will have devastating effects on the health of the community as well as irreversible impacts on the environment. A number of protestors, including local residents, have taken direct action to delay Banks in their work.

At yesterday’s action, the police chose not to manhandle the first pair of protestors, and instead called in the help of the fire brigade rather than that of a specialist cutting team, to free the arms of the protestors who were locked-in.

Campaigners disapprove of the involvement of the fire brigade: they argue that a specialised cutting team should have been dealing with the ‘lock-on’ devices as the lives of the protestors were not endangered, but that the police have refused to find specialist cutters. Robyn Clogg, a local resident of High Stables, said: “After speaking to the Secretary for Durham Fire Brigade Union, it was obvious that the Union did not feel that this was an appropriate use of their time and resources.”

The second pair of protestors arrived on site at 6pm yesterday. The police chose to carry the pair to the pavement while their arms were still attached in the ‘lock-on’ device. Supporters on the road were concerned that this move would have put the protestors’ health and safety at risk. The protestors freed themselves from the lock-on a bit after twelve.

1st of June blockade

At 5:30 this morning three individuals blocked the road in front of the Tynedale Roadstone Depot on the Newburn Haugh Industrial Estate, on Newburn, Newcastle. They are intending to stay there all day to stop the deliveries of tarmac and machinery to the Bradley opencast site, between Leadgate and Dipton, near Consett, County Durham. They are using lock-on devices to form a human barrier.

Sam who is locked-on on the road, says: “Opencast coal mining causes catastrophic climate change and hurts communities. We’re here to support the communities who have been fighting a long battle to save the precious Pont Valley – by stopping the tarmac and machines which are meant to build the access road. Tyndale Roadstone and all other companies supplying Banks Group are complicit in their reckless and destructive plan.”

After several hours the company created a new entrance by taking down their security fences in order to allow lorries to leave the depot.

“This afternoon, in an act of desperation, MGL Group, with the assistance of Northumbria Police, demolished their own site wall in order to construct an access road from their compound to bypass our blockade. The road was built in a reckless and spontaneous manner, passing over a public footpath and a regenerating meadow, neither of which were closed to the public. During this process no road management was put into place by the company, which demonstrates their total disregard for public safety.”

This comes two days before the deadline for Banks Group to trigger planning permission for the opencast coal extraction site which aims to extract 550,000 tons of coal for use mainly in coal-fired power stations. Banks Group claim to have commenced work despite failure to complete their pre-commencement works.

Suzanne Leigh, a resident of Dipton, who is present at the protest, says: “If Banks think we’re going to leave them be, they can think again. Local people have fought for thirty years to keep this Valley green, keep the air breathable, and keep fossil fuels under the ground. In that time this country has moved past coal. Coal is our heritage but the Valley itself is the asset we value most here. The council and the secretary of state should stand up to this company for the sake of the community and the climate.”