Final protest over controversial surface mine bid

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett speaking at the protest outside County Hall earlier this afternoon.
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett speaking at the protest outside County Hall earlier this afternoon.
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Dozens of people gathered outside County Hall in Morpeth this afternoon to urge councillors to turn down a proposed opencast mine in Northumberland.

The meeting of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee is currently taking place and members will soon take a vote on whether Banks Mining’s proposed Highthorn surface mine should get the go-ahead.

The scheme, on a 325-hectare site between Druridge Bay and Widdrington Station, has been recommended for approval.

Prior to the 2pm meeting, members of the Save Druridge group, which has been campaigning against the proposals, gathered for a protest.

As well as speeches, songs were sang to show the strength of feeling of those opposed to the plans.

They have received backing from various national organisations, including Friends of the Earth.

Its chief executive, Craig Bennett, said at the protest: “Druridge Bay has the most incredible and beautiful beaches and so I’m staggered that we are stood here in 2016 outside a place where an application for an opencast mine will be considered.

“If there was a similar application in Surrey, Essex or the Cotswolds, it wouldn’t have got this far.

“The area offers such amazing potential for tourism and related businesses – why put that at risk?

“Why would you want to burden such a fantastic area with a dying industry? Coal has done it’s thing, it’s time for it to move on.”

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett was also present at the protest. She visited the county earlier this year when she came to meet members of the Save Druridge campaign as well as party activists from across the county at the Drift Café in Cresswell.

She said: “What the applicant is not saying about the economic impact is the net jobs total because tourism related businesses would be badly affected if the surface mine scheme goes ahead.

“Coal is the past and it’s not just us saying that – Britain and the international community is saying that – and there are a number of solid planning reasons to refuse this application.

“This is a spectacular turnout on a working day. The community of Northumberland has done itself proud today and they have sent a clear message to the councillors on the planning committee.”

Lynne Tate, who is part of the Save Druridge campaign group, said: “We couldn’t have asked for any more from the Green Party and groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

“We’re all working towards a common goal and hopefully the councillors on the planning committee will refuse the application.

“Some people have said it’s not local people objecting to the scheme, but today has proved that a large number of local residents are against it.”

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 five years of extraction of coal, sandstone and fireclay.

Jeannie Kielty, development relations coordinator, said: “If the Highthorn scheme goes ahead, around £120million would be invested by Banks Mining in the North-East economy, with at least 100 jobs being created at the site.

“Contracts worth a total of £48million would be put out to tender as part of realising the project, with Banks committing to using locally-based suppliers wherever possible, and around £3million would also be contributed to the public purse through business rates.

“The protection and enhancement of Druridge Bay and the surrounding communities is at the heart of our Highthorn proposals and the environmental, ecological, habitat, tourism and recreational enhancements that would form part of the Highthorn scheme through the Discover Druridge initiative would have a positive long-term impact on local communities and the wider area.

“We have worked in Northumberland for more than three decades and are already one of the county’s largest private-sector employers, a position which we aim to continue to maintain through the Highthorn scheme.”