June 19, 2012 | Brenkley News
The long-serving chair of a Northumberland village’s residents’ association has praised the community consultation carried out around plans for a new surface mine in the area – and backed the benefits that the scheme would bring to it.
Brenda Fordy-Scott, who has been chair of the Widdrington Station Residents’ Association for more than two decades, was speaking as regional firm Banks Mining prepared to submit its planning application for the proposed Ferneybeds surface mine in south east Northumberland to the County Council.
Banks recently held two public exhibitions at which it highlighted the design changes that had been made to the initial proposals in response to a number of ideas provided by local people during a series of community workshops that the company hosted as part of an 18-month public engagement programme.
These included moving locations of the access road and compound at the proposed site, changing the transportation plans to ensure that coal lorries do not use the Mile Road which runs into the village, reducing the duration of the scheme from five to three years, and making improvements to the proposed screening of the site from the village.
Mrs Fordy-Scott, who is also involved with the Coastal Villages Community Forum, believes that the transparent and responsive way in which Banks chose to engage with local people, and the visible design changes that this approach led to, enabled an invaluable trust to be built up between the two parties.
And she is now focusing on the different ways in which the community would benefit from the surface mine being given the go ahead by Northumberland County Council.
She says: “We live in an area where there is a valuable mineral asset, and in my opinion, this needs to be worked in a way which brings maximum benefit to the community, which is something that Banks have aligned themselves with as well.
“There are lots of strong opinions in the area due to the past experiences we’ve had with other companies working in this area over recent decades, and Banks showed themselves to be willing to talk and listen to the people that cared the most about this issue from the start.
“Having the workshops chaired by an independent facilitator meant we were confident that our views would be treated with respect – not every issue that was raised led to amendments being made, but the changes that have been made to the original plan show that Banks has taken the consultation process very seriously.
“For example, rerouting the coal lorries to keep them away from Mile Road and reducing the duration of mining operations were issues about which we felt very strongly, and this was clearly recognised through the changes they made.
“The way in which the consultation process has worked encourages me to believe that Banks would operate the Ferneybeds site in the responsible way that they’ve promised they would, and our community stands to reap benefits from this project that would have a positive long-term impact for everyone living here.”
Banks is looking to extract around 750,000 tonnes of coal from the proposed Ferneybeds site, which is located to the south of Widdrington Station, around eight miles north west of Ashington.
If the planning application is approved, the 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.
It would also generate a benefits package of up to £75,000, which would be used to enable Banks to deliver a range of community and environmental improvements in partnership with local people.
Banks Mining already employs more than 200 people, most of whom are employed at the nearby 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, adds: “We’ve worked hard over a long period of time to actively involve as many local people as possible in the development and finalisation of our proposals for Ferneybeds, and it’s pleasing that the validity of our approach has been recognised by Mrs Fordy-Scott and other members of the community.
“Sharing the benefits of the schemes that we operate with the communities in which they are situated is part of Banks’ long-term policy for ensuring that people living in these areas gain tangible, long-term advantages from our presence there, and this would very much be the case for the area surrounding the Ferneybeds site.
“Banks already employs a large number of people in south east Northumberland, with local businesses in the supply chain also benefiting substantially from our operations, and it is our ambition to increase the amount of local jobs that we support both directly and indirectly through the substantial investment we would make in the Ferneybeds scheme.
“Our planning application is close to being complete, and we will ensure everyone in the area is made aware of progress as and when it is submitted.”
Anyone who wants more information on the Ferneybeds proposals can contact the project team on 0191 378 6100 or via firstname.lastname@example.org