Row as Northumberland councillors vote to give Newcastle say on opencast mine bid
A majority of Northumberland councillors voted this week to let Newcastle City Council make the call on a controversial opencast mine bid.
A recommendation to devolve the planning decision on the proposed Dewley Hill surface mine, which would be located to the north of the Throckley Interchange on the A69, was approved by 35 votes to 23 at a meeting of Northumberland County Council.
The development crosses the borders of the two local authorities, but the devolution to Newcastle was considered the best option because 112 hectares of the site are within the city council’s boundaries and just 100 sq m in Northumberland.
However, former Labour leader, Coun Grant Davey, said: “We’re completely and utterly against this devolution of power to Newcastle City Council.
“We are the largest planning authority in the region and you want to cede something that’s going to affect climate change to a small city, which has handled one or two opencast mining applications in the past, but has nowhere near the skill, the education, the knowledge or the actual power, if you like, in their dealings with planning applications on opencast coal.
“I do not believe we should deny the rights of the citizens of Northumberland with the planning obligations of this council. It is an obligation and we should not give it away.”
Lib Dem leader, Coun Jeff Reid, agreed, saying: “I don’t believe we should be giving up our right over the territory that we govern to Newcastle, who aren’t as good as we are at dealing with this sort of stuff. We’ve got vast experience.”
He added that it will still have a significant impact on Northumberland, as while it is a small area within its borders, it is the proposed access, meaning the vehicles would be coming onto the county’s road network.
However, Coun David Towns, a Conservative, said he didn’t see the problem, given the tiny area of the site within Northumberland.
“In fact, I find it highly arrogant for us to be saying we’re better than you at determining these types of applications,” he added. “Quite literally 99.9% of the site is within another authority’s area and I honestly think it is up to them to determine this, not up to us to be spending taxpayers’ money on an area half the size of this room (the council chamber), which represents the access and isn’t an area that is actually going to be worked.”
It was also clarified at the meeting that the local authority itself, individual councillors and Northumberland residents would all still be able to have an input into the planning process and that issues in relation to the impact on the road network would likely be covered through legal agreements which would require the county council to be a signatory.
But reacting to the decision, Labour’s deputy leader, Coun Scott Dickinson, said: “Giving up our say on how this development goes ahead is short-sighted and will have far-reaching consequences for the county.
“Heavy-duty trucks and equipment will need daily access to the mine through our villages. We need to make sure these villages have a voice in any decision-making that impacts them.”
Banks Mining’s bid to extract 800,000 tonnes of coal as well as 400,000 tonnes of fireclay which would be used at the nearby Ibstock Throckley brickworks was lodged with Newcastle City Council towards the start of last year.
In August, that authority contacted the developer to say it was ‘suspending determination’ while it awaited a range of additional information on various environmental issues.
That same month, Northumberland County Council lodged an objection on highways grounds, although it states that the concerns could potentially be overcome through amended plans or additional information.