Council backs surface mine plans, amidst calls for Government to overturn decision
Proposals for a surface mine at Highthorn near Widdrington have been given the green light by the county council, but protesters are continuing their fight.
The application was ‘minded to be approved’ by the council’s strategic planning committee by a 13 – 0 decision with one abstention.
The decision will now be passed to the Secretary of State for their consideration.
Banks Mining’s plans would see the creation of a surface mine on farmland alongside Druridge Bay, on a 250 hectare site between Widdrington Village and Cresswell.
Banks would extract up to three million tonnes of coal, sandstone and fireclay, and restore the site once work is complete.
Extraction would take place over five years, starting in 2017, with total operations lasting seven years, including the time to set up the site and complete restoration.
The company believes the scheme would create at least 100 full-time jobs during the working of the site, with approximately 50 new jobs and around 50 staff transferred from their other sites.
But campaigners against the proposal say they feel let down by the county council.
“The Save Druridge campaign are very disappointed in the planning decision and our councillors who seem to think “jobs for the boys”, which will only last a short number of years, are more important than those already working in the tourism industry in the area. We believe that tourism businesses in Morpeth, Cresswell, Amble and Druridge will be affected,” said Lynne Tate of Save Druridge.
“Unbelievably, climate change did not even come into the decision that was made” she said. “Burning the coal will damage the health and well-being of people and could contribute to premature deaths both in the UK and elsewhere. We hope that the Government will ‘call in’ the application and common sense will prevail.”
“Like the 12,000 people who objected to the plans, I feel so let down by our councillors who made this execrable decision,” said local campaigner and Election Agent for the Berwick Constituency Green Party, Ivor Rackham.
He warned that the decision could impact future elections.
“Come the local elections next spring people will remember not to vote for those who favour crass financial greed over care and common sense.”
Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who spoke against the plans, alongside conservation expert Bill Oddie, at an event at Druridge Bay in May, has written to the Communities Secretary, asking him to ‘call in’ the decision, as she believes it goes against government policy.
She believes the application contravenes the government’s commitment to phase out coal-based power sources by 2025, as it allows for extraction at the site until at least 2027.
No party politics
Councillor Scott Dickinson told The Ambler the application was one of the most stressful applications in his ward that he had been involved with.
He said he had abstained from voting because local constituents on both sides of the argument had asked him to support their views.
And he was angry that some were now ‘playing politics’ with the decision.
“The Committee is made up of ALL political parties and it is unfortunate some tried to play politics with this application knowing it’s not political at all in terms of decision making. Councillors must make decisions based on the law set down by government.
“I abstained simply because as Ward Councillor and having received letters of support and opposition in equal measure, I felt unable to come down on either side.”
Mr Dickinson felt it was now time to move forward. “I am pleased the decision from councillors was unanimous and a clear decision was made.
“Now it has been passed it will bring great benefits to the local area, creating jobs and investment, which can only be welcomed in the current climate. Now it has been approved we must make the most of it and get as much as we can for the local area during the seven year operation.”
Much needed jobs
Northumberland County Council leader Grant Davey said while he appreciated it was a controversial issue, the mine would bring much needed jobs to the area and boost economic growth in the county.
He said: “I fully accept this has been a long and difficult process, with strong feelings on both sides, but I do believe this decision is in the best interests of Northumberland and its residents.
“Thanks to the hard work of our planning team the extraction site has been greatly reduced from its original conception to protect the diversity of the surrounding countryside.”