Surface mine plan at Highthorn submitted

The reduced area of the proposed Highthorn surface mine scheme.
The reduced area of the proposed Highthorn surface mine scheme.

A planning application for a proposed surface mine in Northumberland has been submitted.

Banks Mining has submitted the application for a surface mine to Northumberland County Council at its new Highthorn site, which is located to the south east of the village of Widdrington.

The firm has been carrying out a programme of public consultation over the last two and a half years on its design for the Highthorn scheme to enable local people, community groups and businesses to provide their ideas and opinions on how the scheme might be designed and operated.

The time between the proposed start of work through to the completion of restoration would now be no more than seven years, rather than between eight and ten years, as had previously been planned, and the site has been moved further away from the south and east of Widdrington village through the removal of an extra 283 hectares of land.

Jeannie Kielty, development relations coordinator at The Banks Group, said: “We’ve taken considerable time to listen to local people on how they want to see their area benefit from our proposed Highthorn scheme, and believe that we have developed a package of ideas in response that will enable their ambitions to be realised.”

If the scheme goes ahead, it will also mean an end to the removal of up to 62,000 tonnes of sand from the beach and dunes at Druridge Bay every year after Banks Mining reached an agreement with the owner of a long-standing mineral planning permission which allows for this to be done in response to local requests that it be stopped.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, added: “Our Highthorn scheme would offer real and lasting opportunities for the surrounding area for which it would otherwise be impossible to find the necessary funding, and would also bring a wide range of other economic, employment, social and supply chain benefits to the local community.

“Coal is still a central part of the UK’s energy mix, with around 30 per cent of the electricity that we all use to power our homes, businesses, schools and hospitals being produced through coal, but over 85 per cent of this coal coming from overseas.

“It makes far greater sense to support local jobs in Northumberland, to deliver environmental and conservation enhancements and to provide a secure supply of energy for the UK by mining our own indigenous coal reserves through carefully-planned and sensitively operated schemes such as Highthorn rather than relying on imports of coal and gas from potentially-unstable overseas markets.

“This project would enable us to sustain quality employment for a significant number of local people in an area in which we’ve worked for more than three decades, and we hope we’ll be able to continue our long-term investment in Northumberland by taking it forward.”

But the plan has sparked fierce opposition.

Objectors are concerned about a number of issues, including noise, dust and light pollution, environmental damage close to Druridge Bay and the impact on wildlife. Thousands have signed a petition against the proposals.

Northumberland County Council is expected to make a decision in 2016.