Bid begins for huge mine at beauty spot

PLANS to extract around seven million tonnes of coal near a Northumberland beauty spot have been revealed by Banks Mining.

The company has begun initial consultation over the bid for an opencast site at Highthorn, between Widdrington Station and Druridge Bay.

Leaflets have been distributed to around 4,500 households about the plans, which suggest that operations would run for 11 years from 2016, with restoration and aftercare ongoing until 2035.

Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Northumberland Tourism and councillors are also being consulted.

Banks says the scheme would sustain at least 150 jobs and create £200million of investment.

A skills fund would provide training grants, and restoration ideas include creating new footpaths, green spaces and wildlife habitats. There could also be investment in cycle routes, tourist attractions, broadband, public transport, apprenticeships and facilities for young people.

Banks Communications Manager Katie Perkin said: “As a North-East employer that has worked in Northumberland for more than 30 years we know the area extremely well, and with its proximity to the popular beach and wildlife attractions at Druridge Bay we understand that the Highthorn proposal is a unique and sensitive location.

“Our planned investment has the potential to offer so much to both local people and visitors.We are announcing our intentions at the earliest possible opportunity to start a dialogue with local residents, businesses, tourism bodies and visitors so that we can understand their views better and enable them to have a direct influence on the site’s design and the benefits it will bring.”

The company, which created the Northumberlandia landform at Blagdon, expects to submit a planning application in autumn 2014 after extensive consultation, which will include community-design panels similar to those for the Ferneybeds mining scheme, which was approved in April.

County councillor for the area, Scott Dickinson, said: “I’m keen on the wider benefits to the community and the Northumberland economy and the security of 150 jobs, which the area could desperately need.

“What Banks must do is talk to the likes of Druridge Bay Country Park to make sure that there is no disturbance to the beautiful surroundings and to make sure that any concerns will be acted on in the right way.”

Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Chairman Shelly Willoughby said the plans are no surprise.

She added: “Our plea to any developer coming into the area has always been, ‘don’t make plans about us without us’, and it does appear that Banks Mining is more than willing to involve us.”

Widdrington Village Parish Chairman Valerie Seddon said there are several concerns, such as the timescale and impact on the environment, tourism and an ancient road.

She added: “We will work closely with Banks and if it does get permission to carry out this opencasting we will be looking to secure the best possible outcome for our residents.”