Mining bid is given the green light

A NEW Northumberland opencast mine has been given the go-ahead.

Plans for the surface mine at Widdrington Station were unanimously approved by county councillors on Tuesday.

But members also urged applicant Banks Mining to complete outstanding restoration work to its Pegswood Moor site as a matter of urgency.

The Widdrington scheme will see around 752,000 tonnes of coal extracted from a site off Mile Road, near Ferneybeds, over three years. Around 200,000 tonnes of fireclay and other materials will also be taken, with 100 lorry movements a day to and from the site.

Forty direct jobs will be provided.

Banks Environment and Community Director Mark Dowdall said: “This project will enable Banks to continue its long-term investment in an area in which we have worked for more than three decades.

“Our local operations are already directly employing around 200 people, as well as supporting many other jobs in the local supply chain, and the substantial contributions we’ve made to many local towns and villages over the years have greatly improved the community facilities that they enjoy.

“Our planning application has been carefully designed in close consultation with the local community and we are wholly committed to living up to the promises we have made about the way in which it will be operated.”

The application was opposed by Ulgham Parish Council and five local residents over the proximity to homes and the cumulative impact of mining, along with fears over noise, vibration, dust, highway safety, ecology and the impact on businesses.

But eight residents wrote in favour and Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council also gave its support, with praise for Banks’ public consultation and design workshops.

The Planning and Environment Committee heard that the workshops, which were open to all residents, were the first of their kind for a mining application and led to amendments to the proposal, such as a reduction in the working period from five years to three, changes to the access route for HGVs and moving a compound further away from homes.

Planning officer Joe Nugent recommended approval of the application, saying any landscape, visual, highways, noise or dust impact would be acceptable or controlled through conditions, there would be no unacceptable cumulative impact and the development would offer benefits for the economy, employment and coal supply. He said restoration plans, including creating additional footpaths, hedgerow and drainage, could also provide benefits.

Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Chairman Joe Sennett said: “The majority of folk in the village just said as it is for three years, get on with it and get it over with. The sooner they get it done and put the land back again the better.

“The people who live down there will let us know if they have any disturbance and if that is the case we will address it.”

Chairman of the Widdrington Station Residents’ Association Brenda Fordy-Scott said: “There have been mixed views around the village, but I’m pleased it has been approved because Banks did a really good job with consultation and worked hard to get everybody involved. They really gave it their best shot.

“Nobody here really likes opencasting because it does disrupt things, but now we look forward to working together with Banks.”

Pegswood county and parish councillor David Woodard had asked the planning committee to include a condition forbidding work to start on the Widdrington site until the restoration of Pegswood Moor has been completed.

The project was due to be finished seven years ago, but there were problems with a ‘leaking’ lake and there is still no resolution.

Councillors were advised that they could not attach a condition to the Ferneybeds plans as there is not a close enough link, but the committee called on Banks to resolve the Pegswood situation as soon as possible.

Chairman Trevor Thorne said: “The restoration of Pegswood Moor is causing members some frustration. Like Coun Woodard, I would like to see the completion of this scheme because it has been around a long, long time. I ask the central planning team to put pressure on the developer to get a final outcome.”