I’m richer than Harry Banks: Living next to an opencast coal site

I hadn’t realised how near it would be. I hadn’t realised how loud it would be. I hadn’t realised how dusty and emotionally disturbing it would be. I think that’s because I hadn’t believed it would ever happen.

Twenty five years after moving to High Stables, and after twenty five years of writing letters and speaking at public inquiries the worst has happened. I’d feared the worst but trusted in justice and the good judgment of those with power. How could the landscape we argued to be valuable be destroyed? After a government appointed inspector had said, leave this valley and this community in peace, after our elected councilors had rejected planning application three times, how could this operation go ahead?

Early in January 2018 a hand delivered letter informed me of Banks Mining’s intentions to commence open casting the Pont Valley. Now after seven months of intense activism which succeeded on preventing the mining company from meeting the planning deadline of 3rd June, somehow the operations are going ahead. Banks are ripping up this beautiful valley. The population of rare Great Crested Newts has been killed, their habitat is a dry wasteland. Dust rises from the excavators and trucks ferry subsoil to huge mounds.

Every day I’m busy. Busy challenging, busy recording, busy supporting my friends and neighbours who are also devasted that this is happening. But we are defiant too and determined to hold Banks to account. We’ve learned that our valley is integrally linked to wider resistance to the use of fossil fuels and to combatting the effects of global climate change.

The shape of the hillside I’ve looked at from the bottom of my garden for 25 years has changed. The fields and footpaths I walked on have gone. Banks will replace the incredibly diverse flora with five types of grass seed and say they’ve given us a parkland, that’s if the top soil survives being stored in mounds for three years.

Since that letter arrived in January, I’ve met the most amazing, gentle, dedicated, intelligent people. My connections with neighbours, old friends and new, have grown exponentially as we’ve shared experiences on the ‘front line’ while our sons and daughters have taken part in direct action. I take solace from knowing that we’ve punched a big hole in the profit Banks anticipated to steal from our valley, and knowing that we’ve punched a big hole in the profit Banks anticipated to steal from our valley, and knowing that in so, so, many ways, I’m richer than Harry Banks.