Local people aid development of updated plans for proposed Ferneybeds surface mine

April 2, 2012 | Brenkley News

Updated plans for a proposed surface mine in south east Northumberland which have been developed in conjunction with a panel of local people have been revealed.

In early 2010, regional firm Banks Mining put forward initial plans for the proposed Ferneybeds site, which is located to the south of the village of Widdrington Station, around eight miles north west of Ashington, and initiated an extensive public engagement programme to ensure all interested parties could see and comment on the proposals.

As part of this work, Banks set up a series of community design workshops in order to give local people a strong voice in the scheme’s development at a point where they could help to shape the proposals.

Around 20 local residents and community representatives came forward to take part in a series of subsequent meetings, which have been run by an independent facilitator to ensure that all participants were able to have their say about any aspect of the scheme and the economic, social and environmental benefits  for the local area.

A wide range of issues have been covered by the panel, including transport, landscaping, environmental management, site operation and environmental monitoring, employment on site, local amenities and appearance, and the outcomes of the discussions were used by the Banks design team to help refine and improve their proposals.

These new proposals, which show significant changes to the original outline, have now been presented by Banks to the community design panel members, and will be put on wider display at a public exhibition within the next few weeks.

The locations of the access road and compound at the proposed site have been moved, and transportation plans have been changed to accommodate local views and to ensure that coal lorries do not use the Mile Road which runs into Widdrington Station.

The duration of the scheme has been reduced from five to three years as a result of changes to planned plant that Banks propose to use on site and further geotechnical investigation, and improvements have been made to the proposed screening of the site from the village.

Banks is looking to extract around 750,000 tonnes of coal from the site, which offers easy access to the nearby A1068. All  operations would adhere to Banks Mining’s strict environmental management policies.

If Banks’ planning application is approved, the Ferneybeds scheme would support around 40 jobs, as well as many others in local supply chain businesses, and would also bring new substantial revenues into the local economy.

Banks Mining, which was recently voted Surface Miner Of The Year by its industry peers, already employs more than 200 people, most of whom are employed at the Shotton surface mine in south east Northumberland and the Brenkley Lane surface mine in Newcastle, and has maintained an operational presence in this area for more than three decades.

Mark Dowdall, Banks’ environment and community director, says: “The active involvement of local people has been central to the development of these new proposals, and we’re extremely pleased to have achieved the positive outcomes that we had hoped for when we set up the design panel.

“We’ve gone to great lengths to respond to the issues that were raised with us about this development, and have implemented a number of changes that we hope will be welcomed by people in the area.

“The surface mining industry is still a significant employer in the north east, and we estimate that our existing operations here contribute around £20m to the regional economy, a figure which would rise significantly if these new plans are approved.

“Coal will remain a crucial part of the ‘energy mix’ that the UK needs to meet its energy generation requirements, and we know that there would be great demand for the high quality coal that we would extract from the Ferneybeds site.

“We have a strong track record of managing surface mines to the highest environmental and operational standards, and hope that the many merits of these updated plans will be recognised by Northumberland County Council’s planning committee.”

The Ferneybeds planning application is expected to be submitted for consideration in late spring.  Anyone wanting more information on the proposals should contact the project team on 0191 378 6100 or via enquiries@banksgroup.co.uk

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