Plans submitted for Highthorn surface mine

October 14, 2015 | Brenkley News

To support this important project that will bring jobs, investment and funds for new and improved community facilities to the South East Northumberland area, please go to: http://www.banksgroup.co.uk/highthorn/support-this-project/.

A planning application for a proposed new surface mine in Northumberland that will bring a wide range of economic, employment and social benefits to local communities has been submitted to Northumberland County Council.

At least 50 new jobs would be created by regional employer Banks Mining at its proposed new Highthorn site, which is located to the south east of the village of Widdrington, as well as 50 existing jobs being transferred from the company’s current surface mine sites in Northumberland.

Banks Mining has been carrying out a comprehensive programme of public consultation over the last two and a half years on its design for the Highthorn scheme to enable local people, community groups and businesses to provide their ideas and opinions on how the scheme might best be designed and operated if it gets the go-ahead.

Recent changes to the Highthorn plans which have been 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.

As well as details of an employment, skills development and training fund which form part of the project’s overall community benefits package, the Highthorn planning application also includes details of a major initiative which will aim to create an enhanced tourism offering and new wildlife habitats in and around the Druridge area.

The Discover Druridge project will see a coordinated approach involving local people, tourism and conservation 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.

Improvements that will be delivered throughout the lifetime of the Highthorn site include around eight kilometres of new cyclepaths, bridleways and footpaths, and over 100 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.

Jeannie Kielty, development relations coordinator at The Banks Group, says: “We’ve taken considerable time to listen to local people on how they want to see their area benefit from our proposed Highthorn scheme, and believe that we have developed a package of ideas in response that will enable their ambitions to be realised.

“The Highthorn proposal provides a well thought-out masterplan for delivering a high quality scheme that is worked sensitively and to the highest environmental standards, and which also provides positive, long-lasting benefits to communities in the Druridge Bay area through a comprehensive raft of wholly deliverable supporting measures.”

A total of 518 hectares has been removed from the area being considered for the Highthorn scheme since it was first announced in 2013, a figure which equates to a 62% reduction in its initial size.

If the scheme goes ahead, it will also mean an end to the removal of up to 62,000 tonnes of sand from the beach and dunes at Druridge Bay every year after Banks Mining reached an agreement with the owner of a long-standing mineral planning permission which allows for this to be done in response to local requests that it be stopped.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, adds: “Our Highthorn scheme would offer real and lasting opportunities for the surrounding area for which it would otherwise be impossible to find the necessary funding, and would also bring a wide range of other economic, employment, social and supply chain benefits to the local community.

“Coal is still a central part of the UK’s energy mix, with around 30% of the electricity that we all use to power our homes, businesses, schools and hospitals being produced through coal, but over 85% of this coal coming from overseas.

“It makes far greater sense to support local jobs in Northumberland, to deliver environmental and conservation enhancements and to provide a secure supply of energy for the UK by mining our own indigenous coal reserves through carefully-planned and sensitively operated schemes such as Highthorn rather than relying on imports of coal and gas from potentially-unstable overseas markets.”

“This project would enable us to sustain quality employment for a significant number of local people in an area in which we’ve worked for more than three decades, and we hope we’ll be able to continue our long-term investment in Northumberland by taking it forward.”

Northumberland County Council is expected to make a decision on the Highthorn planning application in 2016.  For further information on the scheme, and to register support for it, please visit www.banksgroup.co.uk/highthorn

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