Community workshops planned as scoping report submitted for proposed Northumberland surface mine

December 19, 2014 | Brenkley News

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Local residents, community groups and employers are being invited to have their say in the development of proposals for a new surface mine in south east Northumberland.

In July 2013, Banks Mining announced it was looking at plans for the new Highthorn surface mining scheme, a project which it believes could offer real and lasting social, economic and environmental benefits for the surrounding area, as well as helping to sustain over 150 local jobs.

Family-owned Banks has just submitted a scoping report to Northumberland County Council which reflects changes made to its outline ideas for the project in light of its initial discussions with and feedback from the local community.

These changes include the time between the proposed start of operations in 2016 to the completion of restoration being reduced from 13 years to between eight and ten years, and the removal of 114 hectares to the east of Widdrington village from the study area being considered for the scheme.

To develop the project plans further, the North East-based firm, which employs more than 200 people at its Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines near Cramlington, is now inviting local people to come to a series of community workshops to meet with the Highthorn project team and help to shape the plans for the Highthorn project.

The first workshop will take place from 6.30pm on Monday 19 January at Widdrington Community Centre in Widdrington Station, with further events taking place in the following months in advance of the submission of a Highthorn planning application, which is expected to happen in late spring 2015.

Local people interested in attending the workshops are asked to pre-register by contacting the Highthorn project team on 0844 209 1515 (local rate call from a BT landline) or via the www.banksgroup.co.uk/highthorn website.

Research carried out by Banks as part of its initial discussions with a wide range of local people, and community groups found a variety of opinions across the community about its plans.

New children’s facilities, improved footpaths and cyclepaths, new tourist facilities, improved internet and phone coverage and new sports facilities were some of the ideas already suggested by local people when asked about new community facilities they would like to see if the Highthorn scheme goes ahead.

The provision of local employment opportunities, apprenticeships and contract opportunities for local suppliers were the main areas in which survey respondents felt the project should be assisting the local economy.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, says: “We distributed around 5,000 information leaflets across the area on our initial proposals for Highthorn and we are pleased that a number of people have already expressed an interest in being part of the community workshops.

“The community workshops enable local people to become involved, so that all ideas and considerations can be directly communicated to our team while they’re working on the final scheme design.

“Involving local residents, businesses, community groups, tourism bodies and visitors at an early stage in the Highthorn development process means we can fully understand their views which will have a direct influence on the plans that we submit and on the benefits that we can bring to their area.”

The Highthorn site, which is located to the south east of the village of Widdrington, 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.

Initial community consultations by Banks led to changes being made in the land being considered for the project in October 2013, with a number of fields to the north east of Widdrington village being excluded from the area being considered for the scheme.

Banks’ operations currently contributes around £35m every year to the economy of the surrounding area through wages and the local supply chain via the Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines, where operation are due to begin to reach completion towards the end of the decade.

Mark Dowdall continues: “We’re very pleased with the degree of community engagement that we’ve been able to achieve since announcing our initial plans for Highthorn, and are keen to maximise the opportunities for local people to play a positive role in this ongoing dialogue.

“We aim to bring forward a scheme that delivers tangible, long-term local and regional economic, environmental, employment and social benefits, and welcome the involvement of local people, groups and businesses with the community panels to help achieve the best design outcome for everyone.

“Banks is one of Northumberland’s largest private-sector employers, a substantial contributor to the local economy and a long-standing supporter of many of the surrounding communities through grants and donations, and we hope to continue in all of these roles over the long-term, something which the Highthorn project would enable us to do.”

For further information on the Highthorn project or to express an interest in being part of the community panel, please contact the project team on 0844 209 1515 or visit www.banksgroup.co.uk/highthorn

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