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Objectors lodge petition as opencast decision looms

Protestors against Highthorn at the planning meeting in July 2016. 'Picture by Jane Coltman
Protestors against Highthorn at the planning meeting in July 2016. 'Picture by Jane Coltman

Campaigners are today presenting Secretary of State Sajid Javid with a petition of almost 20,000 names calling on him to reject the proposed Highthorn surface mine in Northumberland.

As we reported last month, it has been confirmed that a decision on the scheme will be issued ‘on or before’ Monday, March 5. This follows a 14-day public inquiry last June after the Secretary of State called in the approval by Northumberland County Council.

Banks Mining’s proposals are 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, from a 325-hectare site near Widdrington and Druridge Bay.

Today, a letter with details of the almost 20,000 people who object to the plans will be delivered to Mr Javid’s office at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in London, at 1pm.

Guy Shrubsole, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “Secretary of State Sajid Javid faces a critical decision – if he approves this opencast coal mine, it will devastate beautiful Druridge Bay, drive up carbon emissions and make a mockery of the Government’s promises to phase out coal.

“The science is clear that we need to leave 80 per cent of all fossil fuel unburned to avoid dangerous global warming. We urge the Secretary of State to be on the right side of history and leave coal in the ground.”

However, the bid has been divisive ever since it was announced. Banks Mining and its supporters point to jobs and economic benefits for the wider area as well as the restoration plans for the site following the extraction.

Jeannie Kielty, community relations manager at The Banks Group, said: “The simple fact remains that the UK still needs and is still using coal for a number of different purposes.

“The Government’s own projections state that coal will continue to be an important part of the UK’s energy mix for at least the proposed duration of operations at Highthorn, and substantial amounts are also essential for a wide variety of important UK industrial processes, such as the manufacturing of cement and steel.

“It makes far greater sense to support skilled North-East jobs, to deliver regional environmental and conservation enhancements, to avoid the carbon emissions caused by importing the coal supplies that the UK still needs and to provide a secure domestic supply of energy by meeting our continuing need for coal through indigenous reserves, instead of relying on imports of coal and gas from potentially-unstable overseas markets that are thousands of miles away.

“Throughout the many years of community consultation that we’ve undertaken around the Highthorn scheme, our experience has always been that, while there were naturally differing opinions, there is clear and considerable support for this project across the area.”