Residents lose coal plant fight

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A LAST ditch bid by residents to block plans for a coal washing plant in Chapeltown ended in failure this week, despite intense lobbying of city councillors.

About 70 objectors could not force a change in direction over the proposed extraction and cleaning of 395,000 tonnes of coal from the old Hesley Wood spoil tip.

All seven Labour councillors supported the application by Doncaster-based Recycoal, two Liberal Democrats voted against and one abstained.

After the vote, Chris Sumner, of Cowley Residents Action Group, said: “It wasn’t unexpected. It has been a done deal for over a year.”
Now residents will consider joining a liaison group being set up to monitor operations at the plant.

A council planning committee accepted the advice of officers that there were no grounds for rejecting the scheme, subject to a long list of conditions.

Protesters fear the area will be blighted by dust, contamination, traffic, noise and flooding if the site off Smithy Wood Road if used for the operation over three years.

In particular, concerns remain about the impact on health.

The council said the coal would not be removed by opencast mining, but by a “wet” process. Evidence submitted by the applicant was in line with guidelines and residents would not be exposed to air pollution above national targets.

But one of the objectors, Jayne Lawson, who lives in Glenwood Crescent, near the site, said: “Both of my children suffer with severe asthma and eczema. I’m scared that I won’t be able to keep them safe.”

The coal plant would effectively mean a ‘prison sentence’ for her family, she said. “We won’t be able to sit outside in the garden, we won’t be able to open our windows or put washing on the line.”

Mrs Lawson added: “I don’t want to leave, but it is something we’ll have to think seriously about.”

She was one of 13 residents to address the committee, reading out letters from her children’s doctors.

Two action groups were formed - Cowley Residents’ Action Group and Cowley Health and Environment Group - in response to the plans to separate coal from the spoil that came from the Smithy Wood Colliery between 1938 and 1972.

Four petitions were submitted - one with 5,150 names.

Supplementary information, including another representation from Cowley Residents’ Action Group, was submitted at the council meeting.

The report also included concerns from city public health officials that there had been “no actual assessment of the potential impact on health”. A deferment was suggested.

However, officers said the matter “has been appropriately assessed” in line with national policy, and public health officers will be consulted when an application for an environmental permit is made to the Government’s Environment Agency.

In the end, the council decided that all the issues had been addressed, and it welcomed the prospect of the landscaping of the site into “a mosaic of woodland and grassland” so it can be used by the public after the coal washing, which would be an improvement to the green belt.

Tom Allchurch, RecyCoal’s chief executive, said: “The scheme will create a visually appealing and environmentally enhancing alternative to the spoil heap that currently occupies the site.”

Afterwards, Yorkshire and Humber Liberal Democrat Euro MP Rebecca Taylor said she was “disappointed” at the outcome.

“The proposed development raises a number of real concerns, for example, the impact on air quality in the area , which has the potential to be detrimental to human health. “While measures are being proposed that seek to address this and other concerns, I believe there is a real danger that they do not go far enough. I am sure the residents will continue to fight for their community.”