Mining company responds to call for assurances

A North East mining company has spoken of its commitment to site restoration after assurances were demanded in Parliament.

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith told the House of Commons last week that residents need ‘cast-iron assurances’ that promises made by mining operators will be kept.

Now Banks Mining, which has mines near Blagdon, permission for one in Widdrington and plans for Highthorn near Druridge Bay, has highlighted the Northumberlandia community park as an example of its positive restoration work.

And of the 113 surface mines it has operated over the last 39 years, the company says 110 have been successfully restored, while work is ongoing at a further two in the North East.

Director Mark Dowdall said: “We whole-heartedly agree that a surface mine’s restoration should be as important as any other part of its operational cycle, and the way in which we work very clearly reflects this.

“The quality, effectiveness and positive community impact of many of our restoration schemes has been independently recognised, with work at our former Moss Carr site in West Yorkshire winning a prestigious Leeds Architectural Award, Northumberlandia being chosen as the world’s Best Landscape Architecture project in the 2013 International Property Awards and the restoration techniques used at the Oakenshaw Wildlife Reserve in County Durham winning the Millennium Marque and contributing to government best practice guidelines in soil restoration.

“Surface mining provides a unique opportunity to make improvements to land that might otherwise not be possible. Contaminated land can be cleared up, flooding can be alleviated and new landscape features and habitats can be created. Our sites are always restored with the principle that what we create should be an improvement on what was there before to ensure that we leave a positive legacy in our host communities.”

Mr Dowdall said mining sites provide valuable coal for the country and contribute significantly to the local economy.

“As was pointed out during the Parliamentary debate in which Sir Alan spoke, coal is still very much a fundamental part of the UK’s energy mix,” he said.

“Around 40 per cent of the energy that we all use in the UK is produced through coal, but only 20 per cent of our annual coal consumption is currently produced domestically, and it makes far greater sense from an economic, environmental, employment and energy security point of view to utilise appropriate domestic supplies rather than relying on imports from potentially unstable overseas markets.

“The surface mining industry also remains important to the North East economy — Banks’ local operations contribute around £35million to the regional economy every year through wages, investments, business rates and the local supply chain, and we have more than 200 people working at the Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines.”

He added: ”Our aim is to deliver tangible, long-term local and regional economic, environmental, employment and social benefits through all our surface mining projects, including through their restoration.

“We work hard to involve local people, groups and community leaders in the development, operation and restoration of our surface mines, an inclusive approach which has led to changes being made to the planning applications we submit and the working practices we adopt.

“Another North East MP, Pat Glass, noted in this debate that ‘if Banks makes an application, we at least know that it will go to great lengths to disturb residents as little as possible, will invest millions in the North East, and will employ local people, and that its records show that it restores 100 per cent of its sites’.

“We aim to set and reach the very highest standards in our surface mining operations and believe that our work contributes positively to the North East in many different ways.”

During the Parliamentary debate, Sir Alan said: “Opencast mining now is moving to areas that will suffer for a considerable period and, when restored, they will not be in any way better than the areas they replaced.

“Around Widdrington and Widdrington Station in my constituency, people have lived with opencast for 40 years, and it looks like they will be doing so well into the future. Permission already exists for Fearneybeds site with three years of excavation, three quarters of a million tonnes of coal and 200,000 tonnes of fire clay expected to be taken out of the surface mine.

“Banks has a projected application for Highthorn, close to Druridge Bay and the villages of Cresswell, Ellington and Lynemouth. Local people are worried that this might be granted either by the planning authority or on appeal, and that the planning authority might be frightened of losing it on appeal and so might grant it in perhaps a more limited form. That fear exists even before the application has been formally submitted.

“People are entitled to certainty that restoration will be completed to high quality and on time. There is therefore anxiety about sites that have already ceased coaling; anxiety about sites for which permission has been granted; and anxiety about potential further sites.

“Residents are entitled to assurances that all the promises made when opencast permissions are granted will be fully kept, and that restoration aftercare will be carried out and carried out on time.

“If there is doubt about the money, if there is doubt about who will be around to see it through if a company goes bankrupt, or if there is doubt about whether the planning authority will be able to enforce the terms, permission should not be given in the first place.

“Residents need cast-iron assurances. There is a huge burden of worry for people who have already borne the burden of surface mining near their homes, which presents a great many practical problems.

“The mining is quite important for the economy and for our energy supplies, and it generates some employment, but it is very difficult to live alongside, and those people have had to live alongside it because permission has been granted. The very least that they deserve is for restoration to be completed, and for the process to be guaranteed.”