Dereliction and Battles
Like hundreds of other pit villages in the region, Clara Vale’s future after closure of the pit was uncertain, having been declared by the authorities as a ‘Category D’ village, meaning that it was scheduled to be demolished, along with the Pit Yard. Yet Clara had a vibrant community; ex-mineworkers wanted to stay and new people were attracted to the village due to its peaceful rural location, yet within each reach of city jobs and amenities. The mature Sycamores on the perimeter of the Pit Yard, and the village, survived this threat.
Over the years that followed, there were many discussions, plans and disputes about what to do with the Pit Yard. By the 1980’s the pit heads and most of the industrial buildings were gone; nature had taken over much of the now quiet colliery site.
The former ostler let his ponies graze there, tethering them and inadvertently creating a mosaic that contributed to the diversity of wildlife that we see to this day.
In 1983 Gateshead Council, in a draft Local Plan, proposed that the site of the former colliery should be reclaimed for “agricultural purposes” and, at around the same time, a local firm made a planning application to use the site for recycling used timber. A narrow strip of the existing woodland next to the railway line was all that was to be saved. Horrified villagers formed The Pit Yard Action Group to fight these proposals. The Action Group kept the village informed, organised petitions and lobbied councillors.
The wood recycling application went to appeal, and as a result of the objections co-ordinated by the Action Group, the Inspector rejected the application on the grounds of excessive noise. Having achieved this, the Action Group reformed itself into the Clara Vale Conservation Group in March 1984 to fight the agricultural proposal laid out in the Local Plan.
Eventually, under sustained pressure from the Conservation Group, the Council modified the final Local Plan to read “reclamation…for uses appropriate to a rural area”. In October 1985 the Council’s Local Plan went to a Public Enquiry. The matters relating to Clara Vale were heard in the Village Hall (rather against the Council’s wishes) and the inquiry was well attended by many residents, who made their views very clear to the Inspector. A local farmer wanted to take over the Pit Yard for additional grazing. But the Conservation Group argued strongly that the site should become a nature reserve. At around the same time, the official Nature Conservation Strategy for Tyne and Wear had identified Clara Vale as lying in an important wildlife corridor. The hearing lasted a full day – there was a lot of legal argument and the Conservation Group was fortunate to have a solicitor on the committee. Everyone waited with baited breath for the decision and outcome of the Inquiry.
Next: Officially a Reserve!
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