New wildlife tourist initiative announced

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

A major initiative aimed at creating an enhanced tourism offering and new wildlife habitats in and around Druridge was announced at a public exhibition yesterday.

Discover Druridge is a central part of a planning application for the proposed Highthorn surface mine that will be submitted by Banks Group to Northumberland County Council in the near future and earmarked for land to the south-east of Widdrington.

The company says that it has been developed in line with feedback provided by local people, community groups, local businesses and conservation bodies over the last two years on how they would like to see the area benefit from the Highthorn scheme, if it goes ahead.

The company states that the project would see a coordinated approach involving local people, tourism and environmental bodies to help deliver a tourism offer which will sustain the Druridge Bay area for years to come and give the area the infrastructure required for managing the increasing numbers of visitors that the scheme hopes to draw in.

It claims that improvements that will be delivered throughout the lifetime of the Highthorn site include around seven kilometres of new cyclepaths, bridleways and footpaths and more than 130 hectares of new wildlife and wetland habitats.

Enhancements to car park areas, new signage, new birds hides and ‘dark skies’ facilities could also be delivered as part of the initiative. The Banks Group would act as a coordinating body for the Discover Druridge project, to ensure that work is driven forwards to an agreed timescale, and would provide the initial substantial investment required to make the project happen.

People saw the outline proposals for the Discover Druridge initiative at yesterday’s exhibition at Widdrington Station. They were also able to review the final, updated plans for the Highthorn scheme.

Banks has said that it has made changes to the Highthorn plans, including the reduction of the total amount of coal that it will be looking to mine around three million tonnes.

The time between the proposed start of work at the Highthorn site in 2016 through to the completion of restoration would now be no more than seven years, rather than between eight and 10 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 additional 283 hectares of land from the proposals.

A total of 518 hectares has been removed from the area being considered for the Highthorn scheme since it was first announced two years ago, which equates to a 62 per cent reduction in its initial size.

Banks says the Highthorn scheme would offer many benefits and help the company create at least 50 jobs, in addition to the 50 existing jobs that would be transferred from Banks’ sites in Northumberland.