July 16, 2013 | Brenkley News
A north east employer is beginning a lengthy public consultation on its initial proposals for a new surface mine in south east Northumberland that would sustain over 150 local jobs for more than a decade.
Banks Mining, which created the unique Northumberlandia sculpture near Cramlington as part of its Shotton surface mine, is now bringing forward the proposals for a possible new surface mining project called Highthorn, a project which it believes could offer real and lasting regeneration opportunities for the surrounding area.
Banks already employs more than 200 people at its Shotton Surface Mine in south east Northumberland and the Brenkley Lane Surface Mine in Newcastle, and currently contributes around £35m to the local economy every year through wages and the local supply chain.
Highthorn, which would be located to the east of the village of Widdrington Station, inland from Druridge Bay, represents one of the best and largest remaining coal resources in England, and could provide the opportunity for the continuation of Banks’ long-term investment in the local economy as operations at Shotton and Brenkley Lane begin to reach completion towards the end of the decade.
Banks has already agreed to work closely with Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Northumberland Tourism on the project, to help ensure that opportunities to enhance the local environment and habitats and to provide better facilities for visitors and tourists are optimised.
Alongside sustaining a considerable amount of local employment, Highthorn also provides an opportunity to add new and improved community and tourism resources to the local area, both during mining operations as part of Banks’ ‘restoration first’ approach to its surface mining schemes and as part of the site’s final restoration.
The company is already investigating what improvements would best address local environmental and community needs and priorities.
The project could also facilitate the long-term protection and improvement of the local environment by addressing existing issues caused by the poor restoration of the landscape after it was previously mined in the 1950s, and by building on recent ecological successes within the area, such as at Cresswell Ponds.
Katie Perkin, communications manager at The Banks Group, says: “As a north east employer that has worked in Northumberland for more than 30 years, we know the area extremely well, and with its proximity to the popular beach and wildlife attractions at Druridge Bay, we understand that the Highthorn proposal is a unique and sensitive location.
“Our planned investment has the potential to offer so much to both local people and visitors to the area, and we are therefore announcing our intentions at the earliest possible opportunity to start a dialogue with local residents, businesses, tourism bodies and visitors, so that we can understand their views better and enable them to have a direct influence on the site’s design and the benefits it will bring to the area.
“We want the Highthorn site to set a new benchmark for modern minerals developments, delivering significant economic input alongside substantial benefits for the local community and wildlife alike, and our absolute priority is to design a scheme that delivers tangible, long-term local and regional economic, environmental and social benefits from day one of the project.”
Banks recently secured unanimous approval from Northumberland County Council’s planning committee for its new Ferneybeds site, which will be located to the south of Widdrington Station, and won praise from local residents and community leaders for the way in which they were directly involved with the site design process via a series of community design workshops enabling local people to provide comments, opinions and ideas about the Ferneybeds scheme.
A similar approach would be adopted with the Highthorn project, with community workshops forming part of an extensive, long-term public engagement programme that Banks will carry out around the area. As part of these workshops, members of the Banks project team will be asking for ideas about what new facilities they might like to see be created or provided through revenues from the proposed mine.
A planning application is not expected to be ready for submission until summer 2014 at the earliest, as Banks wants to take the time to listen and talk to people across local communities.
Katie Perkin continues: “Local people have already had hands-on experience of our successful, inclusive approach to developing our planning applications, and we will continue this way of working for the Highthorn scheme, providing opportunities for all interested parties to have a direct say in how we take our outline plans forward.
“Banks is a significant employer in this part of Northumberland, a substantial contributor to the local economy and a long-standing supporter of many of the surrounding communities through grants and donations, and we wish to continue to maintain all these roles for the long-term.
“Having created the unique Northumberlandia visitor attraction at Cramlington as a direct result of working our Shotton surface mine, we are now keen to explore both how we can make a positive contribution to the local economy, tourism offering and environment, and what new community resources, services and facilities might result from our working of the Highthorn site.
“We have a number of initial ideas about the sorts of things we might be able to deliver through the Highthorn project, but we very much want to hear from local people about their own ideas and priorities.
“We know there would be both great demand and need for the high quality coal, fireclay and stone that we would extract from the site, and we would live up to our strong track record of working surface mines to the highest environmental and operational standards if we are able to take it forward.”
More than a third of the UK’s electricity is currently produced by coal-burning power stations, with only a quarter of the coal used coming from indigenous source and the rest being imported from often unstable markets around the world, including Russia and South America. While the proportion of our energy that is produced from coal is forecast to fall slowly, it will remain central to the UK’s energy strategy for the foreseeable future.
For more information on Highthorn, click here