COMMUNITY consultation is well under way on plans to develop a surface mine on the edge of a Northumberland village.
Banks Mining has set up its first ever community design panel to provide valuable feedback from residents in drawing up its detailed plans for a Ferneybeds opencast site at Widdrington Station.
The forum, which is open to all residents in the area, was formed earlier this year, with its first meeting taking place in March.
Between 18 and 24 people regularly attend the sessions, which are chaired by independent facilitator Mary Coyle MBE, and the community sets the agenda.
Issues covered so far have included transport, landscaping, environmental management, site operation, monitoring, employment opportunities, visual impact and the effect on local amenities.
Further discussions are expected to focus on the potential for economic and social benefits from the proposed mine.
Banks Environment and Community Director Mark Dowdall said: “We’ve been very pleased with both the considerable involvement of local people from across the community and with the type of issues we’ve been able to cover so far.
“This is naturally a scheme that will attract a lot of interest and some strongly held views, but by adopting an open approach to the discussions we’ve been able to put in some extremely useful work that can only benefit all parties in the long run.
“We’re still keen to get even more local people involved as we know that getting as many people as possible involved at this early stage, whilst there’s a real chance for everyone to directly influence the design process, will provide the best outcomes from the initiative.”
He added: “Having the meetings chaired by an independent facilitator means participants can move to express any points of view without feeling they will be prevented from speaking and also shows that there aren’t any issues that stray off the agenda.
“Proceedings are run transparently fairly and the positive feedback we’ve had from attendees shows this is indeed the case.”
Following criticism that parish councillors were not taking part in the sessions, Coun Shelly Willoughby has attended as an observer.
She said that she will not listen to any discussions about community benefits to avoid prejudicing future parish negotiations with the developer, but will take note of other issues.
Coun Willoughby said her initial concerns about the proposal centre on access arrangements and the potential for noise from maintenance and repairs of machinery.
It is estimated that 752,000 tonnes of coal is available at the site, as well as fire clay, and the scheme would run for five years, from work starting to restoration.
Banks has already submitted a scoping report to Northumberland County Council for the area and is expected to put forward a planning application early in 2012.
Anyone wishing to join the design panel, or who wants further information about the proposals, should contact Banks on 0191 378 6100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org