Northumberland opencast mine refusal quashed in High Court

A map of the proposed Highthorn surface mine.
A map of the proposed Highthorn surface mine.

The decision to reject the Highthorn opencast mine in Northumberland has been quashed following a High Court challenge.

Banks Mining is calling on the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to allow it to progress its scheme, between Widdrington and Druridge Bay, as quickly as possible after it won an action which quashes the previous rejection.

Gavin Styles, managing director at Banks Mining.

Gavin Styles, managing director at Banks Mining.

The application had previously been approved by Northumberland County Council in July 2016 and was then recommended for approval by the Planning Inspectorate, but the previous Secretary of State Sajid Javid opted to turn it down in March this year.

Banks lodged its challenge on the grounds that there were serious errors in the legal basis on which Mr Javid made his decision to reject the bid last year, disregarding the recommendation of the Government-appointed planning inspector following a 14-day inquiry last June.

After presiding over a two-day hearing in October, the Honourable Mr Justice Ouseley has now handed down a decision which found in favour of Banks Mining on all of the bases on which the challenge was lodged, describing the reasoning behind Mr Javid's decision to reject the planning inspector's findings as 'significantly inadequate'.

The Highthorn application now goes back to the Secretary of State's office for further consideration and Banks is urging the new Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, to permit the company to progress its plans, 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, as soon as possible.

Campaigners and politicians react to Highthorn court decision

Gavin Styles, managing director at Banks Mining, said: "We felt that we had a strong case for quashing this decision and are very pleased that all aspects of our challenge have been validated by the High Court.

"The Highthorn scheme has been examined in extreme detail by both a local authority with substantial experience of the extractive industries and an independent planning inspector, and was found to be a sound scheme that should be allowed to go ahead.

"We would therefore urge Mr Brokenshire to give us permission to progress work at Highthorn as soon as possible, and thereby enable us to extend a track record of investing and creating jobs in Northumberland that stretches back four decades."

The case for the Highthorn scheme is that Banks Mining would create at least 100 well-paid, full-time jobs on the site, invest £87million into the Northumberland economy, keep a total of £200million within the UK economy by not importing three million tonnes of coal that would otherwise come from overseas suppliers, and make supply-chain contracts worth a total of £48million available to locally-based businesses.

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.

Mr Styles added: "Banks Mining is not a massive multi-national conglomerate, but a family-owned North East business that has been investing and creating local jobs in our home region since 1976, and at a time of great national uncertainty, it is paramount that employers like ourselves are able to make their investment decisions on agreed, accepted and respected planning principles.

"We fully support a stable transition to a low-carbon economy and are already working successfully within the framework set by Government to phase coal from the electricity generating system, but the fact remains that there will be a clear and recognised need for coal during this phase-out period to serve a range of essential UK industrial, manufacturing, domestic and energy generation needs.

"It has been made clear during the Highthorn decision process that there is both a benefit to the UK and to the environment by locally producing the minerals we need for things like steel, cement, food and electricity production, rather than importing them thousands of miles from places like Russia, the US and Colombia.

"Supporting skilled British jobs, delivering regional environmental and conservation enhancements, avoiding the carbon emissions caused by importing the coal supplies that the UK still needs, and providing a secure domestic supply of energy by meeting our continuing need for coal through domestic reserves makes far greater sense than relying on coal imports from potentially-unstable overseas markets that are thousands of miles away.

"Both our highly-skilled workforce and local residents have already had to endure well over two years of uncertainty about if and when Highthorn will go ahead since planning permission was first granted, and we would strongly urge the Secretary of State to now remove this uncertainty by allowing us to move this scheme forward.

"We are committed to working Highthorn in the safest, most efficient and most environmentally responsible way possible, just as we have done at more than 110 previous sites, and to delivering a wide range of local employment, supply-chain, tourism and environmental benefits that will have a positive impact on the local area for many years to come."