Opencast up for negotiation

The Banks Group  Highthorn  surface mine.'Highthorn Location Map
The Banks Group Highthorn surface mine.'Highthorn Location Map

COMMUNITY leaders have called for careful consideration of new opencast plans.

The Herald reported last week that Banks Mining was beginning consultation about proposals to extract around seven million tonnes of coal from Highthorn, between Widdrington Station and Druridge Bay.

The company hopes to carry out operations over 11 years from 2016, with restoration and aftercare ongoing until 2035.

A community design panel will be set up for local residents to help shape the scheme.

And Widdrington Village Parish Council Chairman Valerie Seddon said one of the first requests is likely to be a reduction in the time-scale.

“The first impression is the length of the proposed excavations, which is between ten-and-a-half and 11 years, followed by a further five years of restoration, so it is going to be quite a big site and for quite a number of years,” she said.

“We are well used to having opencasting in this parish, it has been going on for over 70 years now, but I think we would be looking to negotiate with Banks on the length of the excavation time. Eleven years is quite substantial.”

Coun Seddon is also anxious that the transport routes for the proposed mine should not harm the ancient C116 road, or tourism, and said that nature should be a prime consideration. However, she said there could be opportunities to enhance the environment during restoration.

“In terms of restoration, it is nice that local people will have the chance to have an input,” she said.

“I understand that while some of the land will go back to farmland, there will be an opportunity to develop other things as well, which would be good to see. There are already several small nature reserves in the local area and it could be an opportunity to develop something like that, along with good access.”

Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Chairman Shelly Willoughby welcomed early consultation with residents, and said the plans were no surprise.

“It should not come as a shock really, considering UK Coal previously had the mineral rights. It has always been a matter of when an application would be made,” she said.

“Given the extensive groundwork Banks put in for the Ferneybeds application, which included community workshops where local people were listened to and in some cases acted upon, I have no doubt the same level of communication will be introduced in this instance.

“We have to remember this is a tentative step being taken for a possible application. Nothing is set in stone and nothing has been put forward in the way of any form of definite application. At least those living around the proposed site will be involved from the onset and their concerns or questions can be addressed.”

Banks will carry out further investigations and drilling of the site and hopes to submit a planning application in autumn 2014.