Opposition grows to opencast mines

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The Independent Online
BRITISH COAL is facing mounting opposition to its opencast mining operations, which will be a key to the successful privatisation of the company.

Lobby groups in the North-east have written to the Government demanding a moratorium on opencast mining following a report last week in the British Medical Journal that linked dust from the mines to asthma. The Association of Opencast Objectors has been formed to attempt to stop the progress of such mines.

Opencast operations are among British Coal's most successful, with production costs about two- thirds those of deep-mined coal. Last year British Coal produced 16.7 million tonnes of opencast coal, generating a profit of pounds 170m.

The AOO has asked the Government to stop operation at three sites in Yorkshire - Jerry Clay, Red Pit and Haigh Hall. The association said it had the backing of local authorities in attempting to block a forthcoming application to work Windsor, the last open piece of land between Leeds, Kirklees and Wakefield.

Jeffrey Stead, a spokesman for the group, said he expected its action to have repercussions throughout Britain. British Coal applies for permission for a dozen new sites each year, as the sites have an average lifetime of only five years. Nine applications are in the pipeline, the company said.

David Ketteridge, a British Coal spokesman, said: 'Planning is the crucial element. Without new sites we wither on the vine.'

The company has rejected any claims that opencast could harm the health of the local community.