Fears of opencast mine fire up crowd

SUSPICIONS over opencast mining in Dewsbury dominated a meeting about council plans for new homes and businesses this week.

Dozens of concerned Shaw Cross residents turned out to question council bosses on their Local Development Framework proposals.

The plans set out which areas could be used to create 26,000 homes and 35,000 jobs across Kirklees over the next 15 years.

An area of greenbelt land in Chidswell is among the potential sites.

Kirklees Council’s director of place Jacqui Gedman said: “We’re looking at the Chidswell area as a potential area for up to 35 hectares of employment.

“The key issue for me around Chidswell is there are high unemployment figures around this area. We know people struggle to get local jobs so we need to bring jobs into the community.

“We have land with great access from the motorway.”

But crowds questioned how the council would make sure any jobs went to local people and why it needed more industrial sites.

One man said: “On Shaw Cross Trading Estate we’ve got units that are empty so why build more?”

Another said: “Bring the industry to the centre of Dewsbury and revive the centre of Dewsbury.”

Many suspected that the Chidswell site had only been chosen because it contained coal.

In the late 1990s UK Coal had an application for an opencast mine overturned at appeal following huge public opposition.

During Wednesday’s meeting, it emerged that the company had sold the site four weeks ago.

It is now owned by The Church Commissioners, which manages the Church of England’s investment portfolio.

Members of the public questioned whether there would be a fresh bid to mine the site.

Ms Gedman said: “The council has no intention within its core strategy to extract coal on that site. The developer I’ve been speaking to has no intention either to extract coal from that site.”

She admitted the council could not make any promises that the site would not be mined in the future because the final decision lay with the British Coal Board.

But she said that Kirklees would oppose any attempts for opencast mining there.

“We think it isn’t viable and there are bigger, better seams they can go for,” she said.

“We think the fact that you had such a great campaign last time and won that campaign will add strength to it.”

Council leader Mehboob Khan (Lab) added: “Having employment on that site would help to stop any coal mining.”

Others questioned how the site would be accessed and how the road network would cope.

One woman said: “The dual carriageway is already gridlocked. The traffic is practically at standstill at 5pm.”

But Ms Gedman said that detailed access plans would not be drawn up until a later stage.

She said this stage was about identifying potential sites, not specific developments for each one.

Full council is expected to vote on whether to accept the framework in October or November.