Highthorn mine inquiry set to start next week

Natalie Bennett, then Green Party leader, with protestors against Highthorn at the planning meeting last year. Picture by Jane Coltman
Natalie Bennett, then Green Party leader, with protestors against Highthorn at the planning meeting last year. Picture by Jane Coltman

The planning inquiry for the controversial Highthorn surface-mine scheme is set to start on Wednesday.

The inquiry, scheduled for 11 days, will take place at the home of Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park, starting at 10am. A decision will likely follow about three months later.

Last July, Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee met to decide if Banks Mining’s proposed opencast mine, near Widdrington, should get the go-ahead.

And councillors voted to follow the planners’ recommendation and approve the seven-year scheme, for a 325-hectare site.

However, in September, it was announced that the bid would be decided by the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, after he decided to call in the plan, although there may be a new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government after the General Election.

The public inquiry will be chaired by a planning inspector, who will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who can then choose to reject these recommendations and will have the final word on the fate of the application.

The proposals are for the extraction of three million tonnes of coal and a total of 20,000 tonnes of fireclay and sandstone over a five-year period with total operations lasting seven years, taking account of the time to set up the site and complete restoration.

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 extraction of coal, sandstone and fireclay.

However, objectors said that the mine would destroy a stunning part of Northumberland. Concerns also include the impact on climate change, potential damage to tourism, the impact on wildlife and ecology, road issues and the negative effects on residential amenity, including noise, dust and air pollution.