Official plan for opencast

A FORMAL bid has been lodged for a new opencast mine in Northumberland.

Banks Mining has submitted a planning application to extract 752,000 tonnes of coal from a site near Ferneybeds on the edge of Widdrington Station.

The company says the three-year operation will support around 40 local jobs, as well as provide additional work in the supply chain.

A community benefits fund of about £75,000 would be provided and distributed in partnership with local people, and a new nature corridor would be included in restoration plans for the site to enhance wildlife habitats.

However, a poll in Widdrington Station in October 2010 showed that 66 per cent of respondents were against more opencast mining in the area.

The details of the application have been drawn up following extensive consultation, including community design workshops involving around 20 local residents.

Following feedback, the locations of the proposed access road and compound at the site have been moved, transport plans have been changed to avoid using Mile Road, the duration of the scheme has been reduced and improvements have been made to screening.

The final application was submitted to Northumberland County Council last week.

Banks Environment and Community Director Mark Dowdall said: “We’re very pleased to have reached this milestone and especially to have had such active involvement from local people in getting to it – we’ve gone to great lengths to respond to the issues raised with us about this development and have included a number of measures in our application which we believe fully addresses them.

“The surface mining industry is still a significant employer in this area and we estimate that Banks’ existing operations contribute around £20million to the regional economy, a figure which would rise significantly if these new plans are approved.

“Coal remains a crucial part of the energy mix that the UK needs to meet its energy generation requirements and we know there would be great demand for the coal that we would extract from the Ferneybeds site so hope to be given the chance to meet this demand and thus provide a further boost to employment and investment in the area.”

Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council Chairman Joe Sennett said: “When we put a leaflet out, people were against the plans, but I’m sure there will be another public meeting and we will take it from there.

“This scheme is down to three years and the entrance is going to be on the back road so there won’t be mining traffic on the Mile, but when people see the application we’ll take it from there.”

Widdrington Village Parish Council Chairman Valerie Seddon had similar comments.

She said: “We haven’t got any plans to look at as yet so it is difficult to comment, but Banks has sent us its own booklet. We have had opencasting for so long, over 70 years in our parish, so people are not keen on having any more opencasting.

“However, this is a very small site and for a short period of time, and there really isn’t an opportunity to expand it or to increase the length of time that would be needed.

“When you take everything into consideration I think there won’t be the amount of opposition that there has been with some other opencast sites.”

Banks already operates surface mines at Brenkley Lane and Shotton near Blagdon, and employs more than 200 people.

It has recently set up an apprenticeship and training scheme with Northumberland College and was voted Surface Miner of the Year by industry peers.