MP highlights mining concerns in Commons

Residents need cast-iron assurances that promises made by mining operators will be kept, Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith has told the House of Commons.

In a debate this week Sir Alan said: “In the early days of opencast mining, whole villages were removed to make way for it. The villages of Radcliffe and Chevington Drift in my constituency were totally removed in order to enable opencast mining.

“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.”

Residents have been contacting Sir Alan about plans for Highthorn, as well as problems with restoration works being carried out.

Speaking after the debate, Sir Alan said: “Liberal Democrat campaigner Julie Pörksen and I have met many people who are worried about the future, whether that is because restoration which has been promised does not seem to be happening or because further opencast works are being considered.

“We are both committed to working with local communities and helping make sure that restoration work, as well as the operation of opencast, meets the criteria set down in thee permissions granted for the works.”