COAL will be dug from open countryside near Durham, after a planning inspector gave the go-ahead to the controversial scheme.

Esh Winning-based Hargreaves Surface Mining’s plans to mine 514,000 tonnes of coal and 83,000 tonnes of fireclay from a 135-acre site known as Field House, between Pittington and West Rainton, were rejected by Durham County Council in June 2014.

However, Hargreaves appealed the decision, triggering a three-week public inquiry at Pittington Village Hall last autumn.

Planning Inspector John Woolcock, who led the inquiry, has now issued his decision – to overturn the council’s vote and grant permission.

In his written verdict, Mr Woolcock acknowledges there was “considerable local opposition” but says there was also “some support” and local opposition or support is not in itself a ground for refusing planning permission.

Further, he says Hargreaves’ scheme “would accord with national (planning) policy” and therefore should be allowed.

A spokesman for the firm said it was delighted with the decision.

However, it was met with anger by opponents, who say the opencast will create unacceptable noise, dirt and traffic problems and ruin the countryside.

County councillor Bill Kellett said residents who had worked very hard to fight the proposals were “dismayed”, while his colleague David Hall said he was extremely disappointed.

Cllr Hall called on the Government to urgently review how its planning rules were being applied as they “trample over communities and abandon common sense”.

The mining will take place over 27 months and must begin within three years. Work will be allowed from 7am to 7pm on weekdays and Saturday mornings. The site will then undergo five years of aftercare and ten years of long-term management.

Hargreaves must have agreed plans on dust, noise and other matters.

Mr Woolcock refused Hargreaves’ application for partial costs against the council, saying unreasonable behaviour had not been demonstrated.

Hargreaves says the scheme will bring a considerable economic boost and benefit local communities and the site will be positively restored.

Cllr Kellett, who has opposed the proposals since the first emerged in early 2013, said he would study the details of Mr Woolcock’s decision and call a meeting for local residents shortly.