September 16, 2015 | Community News
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A major initiative aimed at creating an enhanced tourism offering and new wildlife habitats in and around the Druridge area of Northumberland is set to be announced at a public exhibition tomorrow (16 September).
The Discover Druridge project will see a coordinated approach involving local people, tourism and environmental bodies that will help deliver a tourism offer which will sustain the Druridge Bay area for years to come and give the area the infrastructure required for managing the increasing numbers of visitors that the scheme hopes to draw in.
Discover Druridge is a central part of a planning application for the proposed Highthorn surface mine that will be submitted by regional employer The Banks Group to Northumberland County Council in the near future, and has been developed in line with feedback provided by local people, community groups, local businesses and conservation bodies over the last two years on how they would like to see the area benefit from the Highthorn scheme if it goes ahead.
Improvements that will be delivered throughout the lifetime of the Highthorn site include around seven kilometres of new cyclepaths, bridleways and footpaths, and over 130 hectares of new wildlife and wetland habitats.
Enhancements to car park areas, new signage, new birds hides and ‘dark skies’ facilities could also be delivered as part of the initiative.
The Banks Group would act as a coordinating body for the Discover Druridge project, to ensure that work is driven forwards to an agreed timescale, and would provide the initial substantial investment required to make the project happen.
Local people will get their first chance to assess the outline proposals for the Discover Druridge initiative and review the final, updated plans for the Highthorn scheme at a public exhibition taking place between 3pm and 8pm on Wednesday 16 September at Widdrington Community Centre in Widdrington Station.
Recent changes to the Highthorn plans which Banks instigated in response to local comment on its draft proposals include the reduction of the total amount of coal that it will be looking to mine to around three million tonnes.
The time between the proposed start of work at the Highthorn site in 2016 through to the completion of restoration would now be no more than seven years, rather than between eight and ten years, as had previously been planned, and the site has been moved further away from the south and east of Widdrington village through the removal of an additional 283 hectares of land from the proposals.
A total of 518 hectares has been removed from the area being considered for the Highthorn scheme since it was first announced two years ago, which equates to a 62% reduction in its initial size.
Jeannie Kielty, development relations coordinator at The Banks Group, says: “We have worked in Northumberland for more than three decades and know how special this area is, and we are confident that the improvements that could be made to the infrastructure proposed as part of Discover Druridge will be of major benefit to visitors, local people and businesses, and of course to wildlife.
“We’ve worked hard to listen to how local people want to see their area benefit from our proposed Highthorn scheme, and the Discover Druridge initiative is a response that we believe will enable their ambitions for the area to be realised.
“We are excited about how the substantial, dedicated resources that we will put behind this unified approach towards enhancing what’s available across the Druridge area will enable everyone involved to build momentum towards the goals that are collectively agreed across both the groups involved and the local community.”
Banks Mining employs more than 200 people at its Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines near Cramlington, and its local operations already contribute around £35m to the regional economy every year through wages, investments, business rates and the local supply chain.
The family-owned firm believes that the proposed Highthorn scheme, which would be located to the south east of the village of Widdrington and over half a kilometre inland from Druridge Bay, could offer real and lasting social, economic and environmental benefits for the surrounding area, as well as helping the company create at least 50 new jobs, in addition to the 50 existing jobs that would be transferred from Banks’ sites in Northumberland.
Jeannie Kielty continues: “The Highthorn site represents one of the best and largest remaining coal resources in England, and as well as helping us to create and sustain a significant number of jobs, we believe the approach we’re taking to this project offers real and lasting social, economic and environmental benefits for the surrounding area.
“Our forthcoming exhibition gives local people the chance to find out exactly what we’re looking to do through the Discover Druridge project, to ask questions about it and to put their own ideas forward on how we can help move Druridge even higher up the list of Northumberland’s best-known and most-valued tourist destinations.
“The Banks Group is already one of Northumberland’s largest private sector employers, as well as a major contributor to the county’s economy, and the creation of 50 new local jobs at Highthorn, as well as the extended spend in the local supply chain it would entail, will further reinforce this position.”
For further information on the Highthorn project, and to register support for it, please visit www.banksgroup.co.uk/highthorn