October 14, 2013 | Brenkley News
Initial community consultations by a north east employer around proposals for a new surface mine in south east Northumberland have led to changes in the land being considered for the project.
In July this year, Banks Mining announced plans 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, and which would sustain over 150 local jobs for more than a decade.
The Highthorn site, which is 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 the nearby Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines begin to reach completion towards the end of the decade.
Since first announcing its plans, Banks has been consulting with a wide range of local people, community leaders and groups about its plans, and gathering initial feedback, queries and ideas about the project from them.
The consultation process will continue well into next year, but as a result of the initial feedback received from local residents and the landowner, Banks has moved to exclude a number of fields to the north east of Widdrington village from any planning application that will be drawn up in the future.
The company has also stated that it hopes to further reduce the areas of land around residential areas that may be required for the Highthorn surface mine as the scheme design process moves forward and detailed operational requirements are confirmed.
The first phase of test drilling is currently taking place on the Highthorn site, and a series of community panels which will enable local people to provide further comments, opinions and ideas about the scheme are being planned by Banks next year.
Banks currently employs more than 200 people at its Shotton and Brenkley Lane sites, and contributes around £35m every year to the economy of the surrounding area through wages and the local supply chain.
The North East family business, which created the unique Northumberlandia sculpture near Cramlington as part of the Shotton mine’s development, is working closely with Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Northumberland Tourism on the Highthorn project, to help ensure that opportunities to enhance the local environment and habitats and to provide better facilities for visitors and tourists are optimised.
Katie Perkin, communications manager at The Banks Group, says: “Involving local residents, businesses, community groups, tourism bodies and visitors from the beginning of the Highthorn development process means we can fully understand their views and enable them to have a direct influence on both the site’s design and the benefits it will bring to the area.
“The importance of avoiding using this land became clear from the conversations we’ve had with a number of Widdrington residents as well as the landowner, and we’ve therefore taken it out of the scheme design process that is currently under way.
“We’re very pleased with the degree of community engagement that we’ve been able to achieve over the last three months around this project, and will continue to maximise the opportunities for all interested parties to play a positive role part in this ongoing dialogue.
“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.”
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 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 adds: “This project could offer so much to both local people and visitors to the area, and while we have a number of initial ideas about the sorts of things we might be able to deliver through the Highthorn project, we very much want to continue to hear from local people about their own ideas and priorities.
For more information please visit www.banksgroup.co.uk/highthorn