Highthorn opencast plans rejected
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 3million tonnes of coal, sandstone and fireclay on a site alongside Druridge Bay.
The decision has been welcomed by campaigners from all political hues.
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 today (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 healed.”
Banks angry at decision
Banks Mining have a right to appeal the decision, and say they are considering their options. They criticised the Secretary of State, declaring this was ‘an absolutely perverse decision’, and they were angry that they had not been informed officially, before reading about it on social media. They called on Mr Javid to come to the area and explain his conclusion.
In a statement, Managing Director Gavin Styles said: “It has been made for purely political reasons and is totally contrary to the principles of local decision-making that previously appeared so important to Mr Javid. The Planning Inspector’s clear and carefully-considered judgement was that ‘the national benefits of the proposal would clearly outweigh the likely adverse impacts,’ Mr Javid has chosen to flagrantly disregard this expert opinion from the comfort of his London office without ever having taken the time to even visit the area in question.
“Furthermore, his decision to notify the world of his judgement via social media 90 minutes before we, as the applicant, had received official notification of it is deeply unprofessional, and shows an utter disregard for the jobs of the hundreds of people that we employ.
“If the Prime Minister takes up the invitation of the De Le Rue chief executive to come to the region and explain the passport contract decision to his employees, we would ask that she also brings Mr Javid with her, so he can explain his thinking to our loyal North East workforce and the many local suppliers and customers with which we work.”
He continued to press the need for jobs in the area and produce rather than import coal.
“The Highthorn scheme would see us create at least 100 well-paid, full-time jobs on the site, invest £87m into the Northumberland economy, keep a total of £200m within the UK economy by not importing three million tonnes of coal that would otherwise come from overseas suppliers, and make supply chain contracts worth a total of £48m available to locally-based businesses,” he said.
“We owe it to our highly-skilled and loyal North East workforce, our UK customers and the many local residents, community organisations and businesses that have expressed their support for our Highthorn proposals over the last four years to not just leave things here, and will now carefully review the precise reasons for the Secretary of State’s decision before deciding on the most appropriate next steps to take.”