Anger and relief - mixed reaction after controversial Northumberland opencast mine plans refused by Government

The ‘misplaced’ decision to turn down an opencast mine in Northumberland will cost jobs and investment, the company behind the bid has said.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 11:54 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 12:44 pm
Gavin Styles, executive director at Banks Mining.
Gavin Styles, executive director at Banks Mining.

The scheme was approved by Northumberland County Council in July 2016, before being recommended for approval by a Government-appointed planning inspector when that decision was called in.

However, the then Communities Secretary Sajid Javid opted to turn it down in March 2018, before the decision was quashed following a High Court challenge by Banks, with the reasoning behind Mr Javid’s decision described as ‘significantly inadequate’.

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Nonetheless, in the decision, Mr Jenrick concludes that ‘the substantial extent of the landscape harm means that the proposal is still not environmentally acceptable, nor can it be made so by planning conditions or obligations’.

The news has already been welcomed by the Save Druridge campaign group, the Berwick constituency Green Party and Friends of the Earth, but Gavin Styles, executive director at Banks Mining, said that they are ‘extremely disappointed’ that ‘the Secretary of State has once again chosen to go against the expert advice’.

He continued: “At a time when our region and country is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, this decision effectively hands the much-needed and valued jobs of our North-East workforce to Russian miners, who will be delighted to meet British industry’s continuing need for coal while simultaneously significantly increasing global greenhouse gas emissions.

“This decision won’t solve the problem, but will instead make it worse.

“We are grateful to the thousands of people and businesses who have given their backing to this project, including our colleagues and their families, our suppliers, customers and business associates, and the politicians who recognise the reasons why it is important for British industry to have a locally-based coal source.

“We are just so very saddened that this misplaced decision stops us from being in a position to offer them and the many people living in the surrounding communities who supported the Highthorn application the continued support through jobs and investment that they so richly deserve and need.”

On Twitter, Ant Wardle said: “There is a lot of us now going to lose our jobs because of this. This is ridiculous!”

The 17-page decision letter does mention ‘the circumstances in which the validity of the Secretary of State’s decision may be challenged’ through an application to the High Court within six weeks.

Mr Styles added: “We will now review the precise reasons for this decision before agreeing on the most appropriate steps to take.”

Elsewhere, there continues to be support for the decision, with the MP for Berwick, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, describing it as ‘incredibly welcome to all of us who have campaigned to protect our precious coastline, and the community in Druridge Bay who have had the spectre of this proposition hanging over them for a number of years’.

“The Prime Minister was clear when he brought forward our goal to stop producing coal to 2024 that this Government will honour its commitments to a cleaner, greener future, and our target of net zero by 2050,” she added.

“This long-fought battle to protect our local environment has been a culmination of years of work by local people, groups and politicians of all parties, coming together to work for the future of their community and I pay tribute to everyone who has played their part in safeguarding our incredible landscape for future generations.”

Paragraph 211 in the latest version of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework states: ‘Planning permission should not be granted for the extraction of coal unless: a) the proposal is environmentally acceptable, or can be made so by planning conditions or obligations; or b) if it is not environmentally acceptable, then it provides national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh its likely impacts (taking all relevant matters into account, including any residual environmental impact).’

And a ‘grateful and relieved’ chief executive of Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Mike Pratt, said: “From the outset, this was always a difficult proposal to accept from an environmental point of view.

“It sits next to a Site of Special Scientific Interest – Cresswell Pond, which we conserve for wildlife and forms part of a seven-mile sweep of beach, dunes and fields which are extremely important for birds and, for people who come to marvel at the spectacular scenery.

“It would have been totally unacceptable to open a coal mine in the middle of a climate and extinction crisis and to try to do so during a world-wide health crisis would have been totally inappropriate.

“The coal industry is proven outmoded. We need clean and green solutions to energy and employment moving forward. With coal being phased out by the Government in five years, it would have been a travesty to start mining at this point. It is a shame that previous decisions to halt it were not lived up to earlier to prevent such a waste of money and time.

“This is a great result for nature, the climate and communities, and signals that this Government is taking climate breakdown measures very seriously.”

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