No decision on ash plan

Active Leisure Resorts' masterplan for the regeneration of the former Steadsburn opencast site as a leisure resort.
Active Leisure Resorts' masterplan for the regeneration of the former Steadsburn opencast site as a leisure resort.

A BID to import more than 400,000 tonnes of ash to the Northumberland countryside is yet to be decided after confusion reigned in the council chamber.

Active Leisure Resorts is seeking permission to stockpile the pulverised fuel ash at the former Steadsburn opencast site to form the base of a ski slope.

The structure would be part of the Blue Sky Forest regeneration project, which would include sports, water features, restaurants, retail and accommodation.

But members of Northumberland County Council’s Planning and Environment Committee were concerned that the ash plan was submitted in isolation, with the main scheme not due to come before planners until November, and a proposal to accept officers’ recommendation to approve the scheme was voted down by 13 votes to one.

Some councillors thought the application had therefore been rejected, but they were told that was not the case and a site visit was agreed instead.

Coun Ian Swithenbank said: “If the applicants are not happy they can appeal on non-determination, but I would give you very strong advice to grasp this life-line and take the original advice of the officers that this should be a consolidated application, not dealing with a potential waste deposit as a stand-alone application.”

The committee heard that five local parish councils, who had not been informed of the meeting, were all opposed to the plans over fears of dust, noise, pollution, delays to the Steadsburn restoration and concern that they were not combined in the main regeneration scheme.

However, the Coastal Villages Community Forum spoke in support, saying the project was necessary to bring about the much-needed leisure development.

The committee heard that a £220,000 bond was offered by the developer to ensure that if the regeneration scheme did not proceed the landscape would not be contaminated.

But Coun Dougie Watkin said the council could face a £10million tax bill for disposing of the ash.

“We are talking about £10million in tax that would be owed if HMRC decides that it is landfill rather than end-benefit use – £220,000 would not even pay this authority’s lawyers’ costs for the case,” he said.

“I think every councillor here is in sympathy with this regeneration development and wishes it well, but it has to come forward in a way that doesn’t put this authority in the way of significant financial cost.”

Other members were concerned at the type of material to be imported.

Coun Bernard Pidcock said: “I would like to move a site visit.

“At the moment, I feel as if we are being asked to approve an application to dump 420,000 tonnes of ash on Widdrington, which I would describe as the fourth of ten plagues on that community. There are the windmills, the opencast, the foot and mouth and now this.

“I can’t accept this without seeing a clear relationship between dumping this ash and what could be a most fantastic site for leisure and tourism in Northumberland.”

After the meeting Active Leisure Chief Executive Chris Davies said: “After many years getting to this stage, the whole team is keen to get work started on the build phase for the resort, which is going to create hundreds of jobs and generate millions of pounds of inward investment, so we are naturally disappointed at the inevitable delay caused by the request for a site visit.

“However, the onus is on us to demonstrate to councillors how this initial build phase fits into the overall masterplan and why we have submitted this application first to enable us to get the land preparation works for the adventure slopes under way while we continue to prepare the full application, which will include a significant period of consultation.”