Opencast opposition steps up its campaign

Almost 3,000 people have signed up to show their opposition to Northumberland opencast plans, making the biggest petition in the county.

The Save Druridge group has set up the e-petition on Northumberland County Council’s website against moves by Banks Mining to create an opencast between Widdrington and Druridge Bay.

The proposed Highthorn mine would see up to five million tonnes of coal extracted over eight to ten years from 2016, with restoration scheduled for completion by 2026 and aftercare finished by 2031.

The mining company, which submitted a scoping report before Christmas, says the project would safeguard jobs and benefit the community and economy.

But opponents say it will cause massive environmental destruction next to one of the county’s most beautiful beaches and a key wildlife area.

They are also concerned about the impact on tourism, noise and light pollution and heavy vehicles.

A Save Druridge spokesman said: “This is a very small community and we are extremely concerned. The whole area has suffered from mining for many years and it is only just beginning to settle down.

“The Northumberland Minerals Plan in 2000 emphasised how important the heritage is in the coastal area and specifically states that mining should only be considered in extreme circumstances.

“Frankly, I can’t see any difference between the situation in 2000 and what it is today.

“It is about the sensitivity of the area. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a tourism spot and a wildlife area.

People don’t want to see a large black hole in such a beautiful area.”

The group is also worried that if permission was granted for the mine, its life-span could be extended at a future date.

“They are talking about the period of time for operations being eight to ten years, but it is generally accepted that companies put forward plans to extend the time period for opencast mines,” said the spokesman.

“We are worried about pollution, noise, the size of the vehicles, and one of the most important things is that mines work 24 hours a day and the light that shines is considerable.

“In this area the skies are known as the ‘black skies’ because they are so dark and wildlife is attracted by that. There will be this large area lit up like a football ground, which could destroy the wildlife.

“We also feel there would be more employment from tourism being affected than would be gained from the opencast mine.”

He added: “We are aware that Banks is a professionally-run organisation and we have no criticism of it, but people do not want opencast mining. It is something we intend to fight very strongly indeed.”

Banks Environment and Community Director Mark Dowdall said the company would operate the mine to the highest standards.

“We fully respect the right of everyone to express their views about any of our proposals and have been encouraging this around the Highthorn project through a comprehensive programme of local discussions and meetings that has been ongoing for almost two years,” he said.

“As a major local employer that has worked in Northumberland for more than 30 years, we know the area and the local communities well.

“We acknowledge that the Highthorn proposal is in a unique and sensitive location inland from the beach and dunes, which will be protected, and if planning permission is to be granted, we are committed to operating the site to the highest environmental standards and to protecting sensitive wildlife habitats.

“We are in discussion with Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Northumberland Tourism to explore opportunities to enhance the local environment and habitats, and to provide better facilities for visitors and tourists, and can re-confirm that operations would take place several hundred yards away from the bay itself if the scheme goes ahead.”

He added: “As well as helping to sustain jobs for a significant number of people from our existing Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines, Highthorn would also bring considerable new investment into the local economy through wages and the local supply chain, provide local people with new skills development, training and apprenticeship opportunities, and enable us to continue to provide substantial funding in support of new and improved community facilities.

“This project is based in a long-standing coalfield community, and there are many local people who support the project, and indeed many who are working in the mining industry and other associated businesses.”

A series of community workshops has been set up by Banks to encourage residents to help shape the plans. The first is at Widdrington Community Centre on Monday, January 19, at 6.30pm. To register to attend call 0844 209 1515 or visit www.banksgroup.co.uk/highthorn