Highthorn opencast plans rejected, Banks to challenge decision
A controversial plan to create a surface mine at a local beauty spot has been rejected by the government.
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid rejected the plans by Banks Mining to extract up to 3 million tonnes of coal, sandstone and fireclay on a site alongside Druridge Bay.
The decision has been welcomed by campaigners from all political hues, but Banks have vowed to challenge the decision in the High Court.
Environmental campaigner and Green Party member Ivor Rackham told The Ambler “I am over the moon. A huge amount of work by a lot of people from across the political spectrum went into fighting this.
“It looks like all that hard work and the pressure put on our elected leaders paid off. Common sense prevails. Of course, some people will be disappointed because it means the prospects of employment have disappeared, especially in this difficult economic climate. But, a lot of jobs are saved in tourism. Perhaps there is another battle to be fought for greater investment in tourism and the renewables industry, which will bring jobs to the County.”
Plans for the surface mine on 250 hectares of farmland at Highthorn between Widdrington Village and Cresswell had been approved by Northumberland County Council in August 2016, but the matter was passed to the Secretary of State by Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
In response to the government’s decision, Anne-Marie said “This is the right decision for the local community and reflects years of hard work to ensure that we protect our outstanding local environment. Sajid Javid made clear in his decision that the development would affect the landscape and visual beauty of an area of substantial significance. This was one of the key points that I have made, alongside the local community, throughout our opposition to this development.”
A three week public enquiry was held in May 2016, with arguments heard from environmentalists who challenged the government to honour its climate change targets, and Banks Mining, who claimed their plans would create up to 100 full time jobs.
The government’s decision had been expected at the beginning of March but was delayed until 23 March. A spokesman for the Secretary of State said he had “considered all the evidence heard at the public inquiry, together with the recommendation of the planning inspector. His decision took account of all material considerations, including the potential environmental impacts of the scheme.”
Northumberland County Councillor Scott Dickinson (Labour) told The Ambler: “This has been a long drawn out process which divided the local community, I am pleased it has finally reached a conclusion. It has obviously taken much time for considerations to be given to it and the Government have made the final decision. I am obviously concerned about the families that rely on employment with Banks Mining and the skilled workforce that exist with them. Hopefully, other employment can be sourced if required, or other opportunities at other sites can be found. I hope now the community can move on and divisions within will be healed.”
Banks to challenge decision
Banks Mining have announced they will appeal the decision, and will take their case to the High Court. They criticised the Secretary of State, declaring this was ‘an absolutely perverse decision’.
In a statement, Managing Director Gavin Styles said:“We have been advised that we have strong legal grounds for registering this challenge and will be working to get a decision from the High Court as quickly as possible.
“The approach adopted by the Secretary of State in reaching his decision could have far-reaching, unintended consequences for all hydrocarbon extraction industries such as coal, gas and oil, including the shale gas industry, as well as other sectors of the minerals extractive industries and major infrastructure developments, such as road, rail and air projects, and could significantly impact on UK industry’s competitiveness against overseas rivals.
“We fully recognise and accept that there needs to be a stable transition to a low carbon economy, and are already working successfully within the framework which is driving the phased reduction of coal from the electricity generating system, but there will remain a clear and recognised need for coal during this phase out period.
“The Planning Inspector, after a detailed and lengthy inquiry, concluded that ‘the national benefits of the proposal would clearly outweigh the likely adverse impacts,’ which backs up the unanimous support we had for the Highthorn scheme from an experienced, cross-party Northumberland County Council planning committee. The Secretary of State has erred in reaching a different conclusion to his Planning Inspector. His decision to ignore expert advice and deny the opportunity for major new investment and the creation of dozens of high quality jobs in North East England, both with a recognised responsible operator but also within the wider supply chain, demonstrates he believes Russian and American jobs are more important than those of hard-working North East people.
“We have no wish to enter into a dispute with the government, but when such a perverse decision has been made, it is not only important for ourselves that we challenge this decision, but also for all the other UK industries who would be so badly affected by it.”
UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect Banks’ announcement to formally challenge the decision