Third chance for community to have its say on opencast plans

A borehole being drilled at Banks Mining's proposed Highthorn opencast site.
A borehole being drilled at Banks Mining's proposed Highthorn opencast site.

The company behind a controversial surface-mine scheme close to a Northumberland beauty spot has unveiled the date for a third community workshop, but critics have hit out at the timing of the event.

Banks Mining is inviting people to have their say on its developing plans for the proposed Highthorn surface mine, earmarked for the south-east of Widdrington and near picturesque Druridge Bay.

The session, which follows workshops in January and February, is set for 6.30pm on Wednesday at the Miners Welfare Institute, on Bridge Road, Lynemouth. The company says it has chosen this venue to ensure that there is enough room to accommodate everyone interested in attending.

However, protest group Save Druridge has raised concerns about the date of the meeting, which falls during the school Easter holidays.

Chairman John Smillie said: “We are very concerned that many families whose lives could be affected for years to come may not be able to attend this workshop because they are away on holiday. This isn’t the first time we’ve raised questions with Banks over its timings.”

The controversial scheme has split opinion in the community. Objectors are concerned about a number of issues, including noise, dust, light pollution, the effect on wildlife and environmental damage, and a petition against the proposal has been signed by more than 4,000 people.

However, the plan does have its backers and a support group has been set up. Banks says that the project could offer real and lasting social, economic and environmental benefits to the surrounding area, as well as helping to sustain a significant number of jobs.

The company has also said that the latest version of the Highthorn proposal has seen around 460 hectares of land to the north of the C116, which runs between the villages of Widdrington and Druridge, removed from the outline design proposal after alternative locations were agreed for the parts of the mine’s operations that were being considered for the area.

A planning application is expected to be submitted later this year, with the time between the proposed start of operations in 2016 and the completion of restoration now scheduled to be between eight and 10 years.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, said: “The two community workshops we’ve held this year have been well attended, and the feedback we’ve had from attendees is helping to make sure that the plans for Highthorn are as good as they can be for the economy, the environment and the local community.

“We work hard to include local people, groups and community leaders in the development, operation and restoration of our surface mines, and this outcome of this inclusive approach is being shown in the continuing evolution of our plans for the area.

“There’s still work to be done before we’re ready to put forward a detailed planning application and we’ll remain very visible in the community through events like next week’s community workshop and other activities to ensure we can gather as many comments and ideas about our plans as we can from local people.

“Banks is one of Northumberland’s largest private-sector employers, a substantial contributor to the local economy and a long-standing supporter of many of the surrounding communities through the Banks Community Fund, and we hope to be able continue in all of these roles over the long-term, something which the Highthorn project would enable us to do.”

People who are interested in attending Wednesday’s workshop are being asked to pre-register by contacting the Highthorn project team by visiting www.banksgroup.co.uk/highthorn or calling 0844 209 1515.