`

OPENCAST: How much has been spent?

editorial image

The decision by Sajid Javid to refuse permission for new opencast mining in our constituency is to be applauded and greatly welcomed.

This is the first time that any planning application has been refused on the explicit grounds that the proposal would have a “significant detrimental effect” on climate change and on greenhouse gas emissions, and it sets a clear precedent for the same justification to be used in future planning applications.

A line has been drawn in the sand and every future application for coal mining in this country must now be judged by the same criteria. Northumberland is rightly proud of having led the UK into coal mining 300 years ago, and can now be rightly proud of leading the way out of coal mining.

What remains cloaked in secrecy, however, is how much taxpayers’ money has been spent by Northumberland County Council in trying to push through this dinosaur mine, both at time of the original application and throughout the public inquiry process.

Despite repeated requests under the Freedom of Information Act, the council refuses to disclose the figures, either for how much money was paid to barristers and other outside consultants, or how much time was spent by officers within the council when they might have been better occupied doing something more productive.

The council claims that it doesn’t have the data available, or that the disclosure of actual figures would “not be in the public interest”.

So in the absence of any figures from the council, we have to resort to guesswork.

My own, back-of-an-envelope estimate would be a minimum of £400,000 spent between internal officers and external consultants. That, if anywhere near accurate, is almost half a million pounds of public money in a time when all other council services are being cut to the bone.

Come on Northumberland County Council, how can it be “not in the public interest” for the public to know the amount of money you have spent?

It’s time for you to tell us how much of our cash you have poured into this hole in the ground. What do you have to lose?

Thomas Stewart

Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Green Party