The councillor whose ward is subject to proposals for an opencast mine has criticised the Green leader for turning it into a ‘political football’.
Natalie Bennett was in Northumberland last Thursday to meet members of the Save Druridge campaign at the Drift Café in Cresswell, near to the proposed site of the Highthorn surface mine, as well as party activists from across the county.
Banks Mining submitted its bid for the facility, earmarked for land to the south-east of Widdrington, to Northumberland County Council in October last year and a public meeting on the controversial plans is to take place later this month.
Ms Bennett said: “I’m here to support the campaign against the opencast mine at Druridge Bay.
“I have been talking to local campaigners, hearing about the massive local impacts that this mine would cause in terms of traffic, noise and damage to the local tourism industry. Also, of course, there’s the global impact of climate change.
“But really, this is clearly a beautiful, scenic place, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), a place in which opencast mining is utterly inappropriate.
“I’m sure people will talk about jobs, but how many jobs would be destroyed and lost in the tourist industry and other local industries if this opencast mine were to go ahead? So I would say, ‘let’s protect Druridge Bay’.”
But Coun Scott Dickinson, Labour ward member for Druridge Bay, said: “The people who live here in Druridge Bay are best-placed to weigh up the pros and cons and these are the communities which either support or oppose the planning application made by Banks Mining.
“It’s their future and surely party politics shouldn’t complicate matters even further.
“Residents are entitled to their views and those are the views that matter.
“Petitions with names on from all over the country are not the voices anyone needs to hear, nor that of the Green leader, whom I’m sure is very nice, but her intervention smacks of political opportunism.
“This is not a party-political football to try to score cheap points from residents who are rightly considering all sides of the argument.
“Nor should the view of mass opposition be the focus, while employees, families and supporters also have valued input.
“Whichever way you look at this application, it’s true to say Banks is a major employer and it’s true to say they have stopped the real threat to the beach by stopping the sand extraction, which local people constructively achieved by attending meetings and making their feelings known.
“It’s also true to say that Banks is listening to the local community and elected members like myself, but it’s also true to say I still have concerns.
“I want the right decision based on the right reasons and I don’t think that the Green Party contributed to that process when they attempted to turn this into a political football.
“It’s much too important a decision for that.”
The public meeting is to be held on Thursday, February 25, at Widdrington Community Centre, between 6pm and 8pm.
It will then fall to the county council’s strategic planning committee to make a decision on the application.
Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, said: “The UK needs a balanced, secure and diversified energy mix which makes best use of the indigenous sources of energy available to us, which makes the unnecessary and arbitrary limits placed by the UK Government on both the future use of coal and the deployment of onshore wind and solar PV, which are proven, flexible and cost-effective means of energy generation, ever more mystifying.
“Coal remains a central part of the UK’s current energy mix, with around 30 per cent of the electricity that we all use to power our homes, businesses, schools and hospitals being produced using it, but over 85 per cent of the coal we use currently comes from overseas.
“It makes far greater environmental sense to mine and use our own indigenous coal reserves through strictly-regulated and sensitively-operated schemes such as our planned and operational sites in Northumberland, rather than transporting lower-quality materials thousands of miles to the UK from potentially-unstable overseas markets.
“Add to this the hundreds of North-East jobs that our mining operations support both directly and indirectly, the tens of millions of pounds they put into the regional economy every year and the delivery of wide-ranging local environmental and conservation enhancements that they facilitate and there is a very clear and powerful argument for retaining coal as part of the UK’s strategy for achieving a secure, affordable and sustainable energy mix.
“We’ve designed the Highthorn scheme to bring a wide range of economic, employment and social benefits to local communities, and our experience on the ground is that there is considerable support across them for it.
“It provides a well-thought-out masterplan for delivering a high-quality scheme that is worked sensitively and to the highest environmental standards, and which also provides positive, long-lasting benefits to communities in the Druridge Bay area through a comprehensive raft of wholly deliverable supporting measures.
“We will continue to work hard to ensure that accurate information is available to local people, groups and businesses on the details of our Highthorn plans, and look forward to putting our case to Northumberland County Council later in the year.”