Plans for mine open for public to view

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NEW opencast plans for Widdrington Station have gone on public display.

And the general feeling was that while the scheme is not ideal, applicant Banks Mining has listened to local views.

The proposal is for around 750,000 tonnes of coal to be taken from the Ferneybeds site to the south of the village.

Initially, the project would have run over five years, but following a series of community workshops and input from residents it has now been reduced to three years, while the proposed access and compound have been moved to make them less obtrusive and screening has been improved.

In addition, plans for coal lorries to use Mile Road have been revised so that all the HGVs would use Ulgham Grange Road, close to the junction with the A1068.

The amendments were presented in two public exhibitions this week in Widdrington Station and Linton. A further community workshop will be held next month to discuss the feedback.

A planning application is then expected to be submitted to Northumberland County Council in late May, with a decision expected by next spring.

At Widdrington Station on Tuesday a steady stream of villagers viewed the plans at the Area Training and Activity Centre (ATAC).

George Askew said: “I think that Banks has actually done what has been asked of it. It has altered things which were in the first plan to make them better.

“I went to most of the community meetings and most of the things that were put to Banks, such as the access roads and the mounds and all the other problems, seem to have more or less complied with what the residents wanted.

“I’m quite happy with the plans. I would rather have this than the windfarms. They last 25 years whereas this has come down to three years.”

Fellow resident Russell Gadbury was equally satisfied, adding that Banks had listened to people’s views.

“I think there has been some very positive revision to the plans,” he said. “I can see the need for coal, we can’t move away totally to renewable energy overnight, and for local employment this has got to be good. I’m very pleased to see the life cycle has been shortened.”

Resident Brenda Fordy-Scott said: “It is unlikely that planning permission is going to be turned down so I would much rather work with Banks. It is also something for Northumberland because we haven’t got many jobs. Let’s work together and make the most of it.

However, Tony Cox was less impressed.

“I feel we have been dumped on again after foot and mouth and burning sheep, and opencast north of the village and now more south of the village, and wind turbines. I think that is enough really,” he said.

“I must say the restoration plans look well thought out so we can look forward to four years’ time when it is finished. Now they just need to start it, do it and finish it.”

If the plans are granted, the site would support around 40 direct jobs and others in the supply chain, with community benefits of up to £75,000.

Banks Environment and Community Director Mark Dowdall said: “Overall, the people we have engaged with have really appreciated us explaining what we are proposing and working with them. The issue of lorries using Mile Road was a real concern, but we have been able to address that. It shows the importance of committing time and resources to this and not just putting plans in without having the opportunity to engage with people.

“We are getting two views. There are people who have been involved with the industry and know this is an area and community which is built on coal so if this is going to happen they want it to happen as quickly and as sensitively as possible, and we are trying to reassure them that that is what we will do, but some people, and I think it is the minority that have expressed it to us at the exhibition, are strongly against it.”