Two open cast coal mines shut down for the day by residents and activists

Coal Nee More sign at the protest
Glen Black

On 8 September, approximately 40 people entered Bradley opencast coal mine, Dipton, owned by Banks Group. At the same time, two people locked on to a digging machine at Field House surface, West Rainton, owned by Hargreaves Surface Mining. As a result, neither mine operated for the day.

Bradley Mine

The activists came from the Coal Nee More camp, located near Bradley mine, organised by the Protect Pont Valley campaign. This four-day camp ran from 5 to 9 September and said it provided skills and ideas to “resist the corporations that are destroying our planet”. It included workshops on how to build a lock-on device and encountering police during protest. A lock-on device secures two peoples’ arms together inside a metal or concrete container, making it difficult for police to move them.

On 8 September, as part of the camp, activists dressed in red boiler suits entered at the back of Bradley mine and crossed it with banners and chants. Staff from Steadfast Security Group physically confronted several activists. But the group were able to make it to the high barrier, known as a baffle bank, that overlooked a busy main road on the other side of the mine. And they remained on top of the baffle bank until 1pm, when Bradley mine closed.

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About 15 protesters later joined activists on a pavement outside the mine. The group comprised local residents and additional activists from the camp. It brought banners and placards, displaying them to passing drivers. There were many honks of support from cars passing by.

The Canary was present during the action and saw no workers arrive to begin their day. Coal Nee More suggested to The Canary that this resulted from its forward advertisement of the action. About a dozen police officers were also present at the protest but made no attempt to remove activists.

‘Environmentally responsible’

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director for Banks Group, said in the Northern Echo:

Banks Mining is a North-East, family-owned firm that has been investing in the region for more than four decades, with hundreds of local and regional jobs being directly and indirectly created and sustained as a result, and we are continuing to progress work at our Bradley site in the safest, most efficient and most environmentally responsible way possible.

But a press release seen by The Canary said activists:

are dressed in red representing the red line for the climate that is being crossed with the continued reliance on fossil fuel extraction.

Field House mine

Two people from the same camp also carried out an autonomous action at Field House surface mine, West Rainton. The pair locked on to the top of a digger, preventing it from operating. This tactic has been widely used in Coal Nee More actions previously. And it meant work on the site, owned by Hargreaves Surface Mining, was stopped for the day.

The pair displayed a banner reading “System change not climate change”. And one reportedly knitted in solidarity with anti-fracking group Lancashire Nanas. Police were present but made no arrests. The lock-on voluntarily ended at 1pm, the closing time for Field House mine.

In a press release seen by The Canary, one of the people who locked on said:

We are at Hargreaves coal mine today and take direct action to challenge the destructive fossil fuel industry. We stand in solidarity with the locals and protectors at Pont Valley that is also in County Durham, and those on the frontlines fighting the fossil fuel industry globally.

The date for both actions was chosen to coincide with the global Rise for Climate protests. An estimated 900 events across 95 countries occured on 8 September to highlight climate change.

Responses

Tracy Gillman, whose house is next to Bradley mine, spoke to The Canary. Asked about people from outside of County Durham taking action alongside residents, she said:

It’s fantastic… to have other people’s support, people to come, to keep the campaign alive. The fact [is] we are living with this. They have destroyed the valley now – Banks – but we are not going to stop. And with the support of other people, that is just so heartening. It’s fantastic.

Gillman also spoke about what the 8 September action means for opposing Bradley mine:

We’re just going to keep going. We’re fighting on lots of different fronts so there’s legal battles that we’re putting into place. We’ve got a crowdfunder right now to take this to judicial review, to question James Brokenshire’s decision not to revoke planning permission. And there are other legal battles… We want to hold Durham county Council to account, Banks to account.

50 years of opposition

Bradley open cast mine has faced opposition from Dipton residents for 50 years. And in July 2018 the local miners’ group, Durham Miners Association, came out in support of the resistance. It told the Guardian that Bradley mine:

now threatens to ruin our environment for no perceivable benefit. Our communities have suffered enough… and they do not need to have more injury added to insult.

Approval was given for the mine in June 2015, with a three-year window to begin work. An 86,000 signature petition was delivered to then-communities secretary Sajid Javid in March 2018. Further appeals have been made to current communities secretary James Brokenshire. But in July 2018, Brokenshire said he “would not intervene”.

Activists have since been working with locals to take direct action against the mine. The actions on 8 September are the latest in a campaign to empower people against a fossil fuel corporation. But it’s clear they won’t be the last.

Get Involved!

Donate to the campaign’s fundraiser for bringing a legal challenge against Brokenshire’s decision not to intervene.

– Follow the Protect Pont Valley campaign on Twitter and Facebook to stay updated on the campaign.

Featured image and additional images via author.

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Glen Black