A WILDLIFE and green belt preservation group has accused Newcastle City Council officials of silencing more than 15,000 opponents of a controversial plan for a surface coal mine near Ponteland.

Save Newcastle Wildlife, a campaign group that aims to protect wildlife, the green belt, and public access to the countryside, have fronted a campaign to block the mine plans.

The proposals have been put forward by a partnership between Banks Mining and Ibstock Brick, the owners of the nearby Throckley Brickworks, around half a mile from the proposed site.

The companies are planning to extract 800,000 tonnes of coal and 400,000 tonnes of fireclay from Dewley Hill, located on land to the east of the B6326 Ponteland Road and Stamfordham Road junction.

Although more than 15,000 people have now signed a Save Newcastle Wildlife petition to oppose the development, the campaign group claims Newcastle City Council is refusing to allow them a debate in the council chamber.

Under normal circumstances, a petition submitted to the local authority with more than 2,500 signatories will trigger a debate at a full council meeting. 

However, the council is denying campaigners that right on the grounds that Banks’ plans are a matter for only the authority’s planning committee to consider and that objectors can make their views known there.

Rachel Locke, of Save Newcastle Wildlife, said: “The petition has reached such a wide audience because the issues around coal mining is such big issue, not just locally but globally.

“It’s really encouraging to see other campaign groups come together and oppose plans like this. We are all a force to be reckoned with.”

Miss Locke had asked that the petition be debated at the next full council meeting on April 3, but her request was rejected.

Instead, members of Save Newcastle Wildlife and other campaign groups will protest outside the council offices at the Civic Centre.

She said: “We have been denied the rights to present our petition. It is outrageous that the council sees fit to silence more than 15,000 people on this matter.  

“Refusing to acknowledge the mounting opposition to this ludicrous scheme, which extends far beyond the noise, dust, disruption and damage to the immediate environment, is a betrayal of local democracy.”

A Newcastle City Council spokeswoman said: “In line with the council’s normal processes, the petition will not be presented to full council as it relates to a live planning application. The decision as to whether or not to grant planning permission for the application will be made by the council’s planning committee.

“Therefore, the petition will be referred to the planning committee and objectors will have the opportunity to address the committee before it makes any decision on the application.”