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Go-ahead for Highthorn mine High Court challenge

A map of the proposed Highthorn site.
A map of the proposed Highthorn site.

A company has been given the go-ahead to mount a High Court challenge over refused plans for a surface mine in Northumberland.

Permission for Banks Mining’s challenge has been formally granted after The Honourable Mr Justice Ouseley concluded that the company has ‘an arguable case’. The hearing, expected to take two days, will start on Wednesday, October 17.

Banks is fighting refusal of its Highthorn scheme, earmarked for land near to Widdrington and Druridge Bay. The plan is for the extraction of three million tonnes of coal and a total of 20,000 tonnes of fireclay and sandstone over a five-year period with total operations lasting seven years, taking account of the time to set up the site and complete restoration.

In March, the then Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, rejected the plan, saying that it would have a negative impact on the landscape and tourism in the area.

An aggrieved Banks vowed to challenge the decision in the High Court, especially after the proposal had previously been granted approval by Northumberland County Council and then backed by a Government planning inspector.

Banks claims there are ‘serious errors in the legal basis’ on which Mr Javid’s decision was made.

Gavin Styles, managing director at Banks Mining, said: “We are very pleased that our belief that we had solid grounds for this challenge has now been formally recognised and are looking forward to presenting what we feel is a strong case for quashing the Highthorn decision.

“The approach adopted in reaching it could have far-reaching, unintended consequences for all hydrocarbon extraction industries such as coal, gas and oil, including the shale gas industry, as well as other sectors of the minerals extractive industries and major infrastructure developments, such as road, rail and air projects, and could significantly impact on UK industry’s competitiveness against overseas rivals.

“While we fully recognise and accept that there needs to be a stable transition to a low carbon economy, and are indeed already working successfully within the framework which is driving the phased reduction of coal from the electricity generating system, the fact remains that there will remain a clear and recognised need for coal during this phase out period.

“If we do not domestically produce our own coal for things like steel, cement, food and electricity production, we will simply be forced to import more from places like Russia, the US and Colombia.

“Supporting skilled British jobs, delivering regional environmental and conservation enhancements, avoiding the carbon emissions caused by importing the coal supplies that the UK still needs, and providing a secure domestic supply of energy by meeting our continuing need for coal through domestic reserves makes far greater sense than relying on coal and gas imports from potentially-unstable overseas markets that are thousands of miles away.”

Banks says that the Highthorn scheme would create at least 100 well-paid, full-time jobs on the site, invest £87million into the Northumberland economy, keep a total of £200million within the UK economy by not importing three million tonnes of coal that would otherwise come from overseas suppliers, and make supply chain contracts worth a total of £48million available to locally-based businesses.

However, objectors say that the mine would destroy a stunning part of Northumberland. Concerns also include the impact on climate change, potential damage to tourism, the impact on wildlife and ecology, road issues and the negative effects on residential amenity, including noise, dust and air pollution.