Objectors speak out after mine plan is lodged

The reduced area of the proposed Highthorn surface mine scheme.
The reduced area of the proposed Highthorn surface mine scheme.

Objectors fighting a controversial surface-mine plan have criticised the company behind the proposals for lodging a formal bid in the face of ‘overwhelming public opposition’, claiming the scheme will destroy a Northumberland beauty spot forever.

Last week, the Gazette reported that Banks Mining had submitted a planning application to Northumberland County Council for its proposed Highthorn site, earmarked for the south east of Widdrington.

The Durham-based firm says the development would create at least 50 new jobs, while 50 existing roles would be transferred from its current surface-mine sites elsewhere in the county.

Banks states that Highthorn would bring social and economic benefits, including The Discover Druridge project which aims to create an enhanced tourism offering and new wildlife habitats in and around the Druridge area and new footpaths, as well as wildlife and wetland habitats, would be among the improvements.

But opponents aren’t convinced. A spokesman for the Save Druridge Group said: “We are disappointed that Banks has persisted with its planning application in the face of overwhelming public opposition from throughout Northumberland and beyond.

“More than 4,250 people have signed a petition calling for Banks to withdraw the application, while a rival petition in support of the plans has just over 100 signatories.

“We believe that one of Northumberland’s most accessible, open and beautiful areas will be spoiled forever should Banks’ plans be approved. As well as being a gross intrusion in an unspoiled landscape, open-cast mining threatens the wide Druridge hinterland with noise, dust and light pollution.

“We believe the mine will have a substantial detrimental effect on all other economic activity in the area, especially the burgeoning tourism industry and the economic development of surrounding villages and towns such as Amble. This is on top of the threat to the birds, animals and plants that thrive at Druridge. Open-casting destroys wealth and livelihoods as it casts its filthy pall over all other economic activity.”

Banks says it has made a number of changes and scaled back its formal application following public consultation.

Among the changes, Banks says it has reduced the total amount of coal that it will be looking to mine to around three million tonnes and the time between the proposed start of work at Highthorn in 2016 through to the completion of restoration has been reduced to being no more than seven years. It also says it has moved the site further away from the south and east of Widdrington village.

But the Save Druridge spokesman said: “Banks has reduced the amount of coal it wants to extract, but even this amount is unnecessary to the British economy and coal is the dirtiest energy source.”