Concerns have been raised about various aspects of an application to alter the restoration strategy at an opencast coal site in Northumberland.
UKCSMR Limited, which bought UK Coal last year, is nearing an end to its permitted works at Butterwell near Linton.
The proposed restoration agreed with Northumberland County Council a few years ago split the site into two separate sections – one to the north comprising of the land to the west of the rail loading pad and the second to the south, which included the rest of the site.
The northern part was to be restored to grassland with a woodland strip running through the middle of it in an attempt to create a habitat that was suitable for wading birds.
The southern end was set to contain agricultural land, with the fields being divided by hedgerows with conservation headlands. It also included a strip of woodland.
However, UKCSMR Limited and land owner Harworth Esta-tes is seeking to make changes.
Their planning statement says: ‘The retention of the existing rail loading pad was already part of the approved restoration proposal. However, it is considered that any future users of such a facility are likely to require large amounts of land for the stocking and storage of goods, which could be transported by rail.
‘It is therefore considered necessary to increase the quantity of land around the loading pad that could be used for such purposes in the future in order to attract and support businesses which may benefit from the rail linked site’.
This has prompted the Save Druridge group fighting plans by the Banks Group for an opencast mine at Highthorn – land to the north of the C116 that runs between the villages of Widdrington and Druridge – to call on Banks and UKCSMR to be upfront about whether the former will use the rail loading pad if it gets planning permission.
In addition, more than 20 people have objected to the UKCSMR and Harworth Estates application on grounds including the impact on the landscape and the nature of the works.
The wading birds habitat aim has been moved to the southern section at Butterwell. This involves creating a low lying and seasonally wet area of land and removing hedgerows.
Jonathan Rodger, a member of the Save Druridge group, said in his response: ‘The proposed variation is a grim alternative and it is inconsistent with the surrounding landscape, which is predominantly agricultural.
‘What the applicant is seeking in essence is to be let off the performance of its restoration obligations. It has made no good case for being granted such an indulgence.’
Barnaby Pilgrim, project director at Banks Group, said: “We flagged up the use of the rail hub at the Butterwell site as being one such option during one of the series of community workshops we held, but nothing has yet been finalised and we are continuing to evaluate a number of options.”
UKCSMR Limited managing director David Bolton said: “The rail loading pad is in a useful location given how close it is to the East Coast main line and coal still has a big part to play in the nation’s energy production.
“However, if the land surrounding the pad is not taken up by a firm after three years, it will be restored to agricultural.”