People’s panel shapes opencast

VILLAGERS could help shape the design of opencast plans in a new community panel.

Banks Mining is developing proposals for an opencast site to the south of Ferneybeds in Widdrington Station after initial investigations showed that an estimated 750,000 tonnes of coal is available.

A scoping report has already been submitted to Northumberland County Council for the site and a formal planning application is expected to be made later this year.

However, the company says it wants local residents to play a key part in drawing up the proposals as part of a community design panel.

Members would be able to give their views of the design of the opencast site, as well as discuss the environmental, economic and social issues associated with it.

The panel will come together in a series of meetings, chaired by an independent facilitator, and will be able to keep the community informed of the proposals.

Banks Environment and Community Director Mark Dowdall said: “Effective consultation with communities plays a central role in the development and refinement of all our proposals and facilitating direct contact between Banks’ design team and people living in the local area through initiatives like the design panel provides a valuable way of finding out exactly what the community’s opinions and priorities actually are.

“We want any local people with an interest to be part of the Ferneybeds community design panel so we can ensure that we take local views into account to come up with the best possible project design for all concerned. All ideas will get an equal hearing during the discussions that take place.”

He added: “The coal industry continues to make a significant contribution to both the local and regional economy and coal is also a crucial part of the energy mix required to meet the UK’s power requirements.

“We believe that, if approved, the Ferneybeds scheme would continue our long established track record of operating safe, responsible and efficient surface mines in south east Northumberland to the highest standards.”

Banks has worked in the area since the 1980s and currently operates opencast sites at Shotton and Brenkley Lane on the Blagdon Estate.

It says the Widdrington Station site would support around 40 jobs.

Anyone interested in joining the community design panel should contact Jan Gill on 0191 378 6100 or e-mail