North East employer Banks Mining is calling on the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to allow it to progress its Highthorn surface mine as quickly as possible after it won a High Court action which quashes the previous rejection of a scheme that was recommended for approval by both Northumberland County Council and the government-appointed Planning Inspectorate.
The County Durham-headquartered employer lodged a High Court challenge on the grounds that there were serious errors in the legal basis on which former Secretary of State, Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, made his decision to reject its Highthorn surface mine planning application last year, disregarding the recommendation of the government-appointed planning inspector that the scheme should be allowed to go ahead.
After presiding over a two day hearing in October, The Hon Mr Justice Ouseley has now handed down a decision which found in favour of Banks Mining on all of the bases on which the challenge was lodged, describing the reasoning behind Mr Javid’s decision to reject the planning inspector’s findings as ‘significantly inadequate.’
The ruling also notes that while ‘The Inspector thought the evidence and his reasoning merited the grant of permission…..The Secretary of State does not indicate…..what evidence he had for any conclusion he reached, or by what reasoning he arrived at it.’
The Highthorn application now goes back to the Secretary of State’s office for further consideration, and with the planning application having already been supported by Northumberland County Council’s planning committee and an independent planning inspector, Banks Mining is urging the present incumbent, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, to permit the company to progress its significant investment and job creation plans as soon as possible.
Gavin Styles, managing director at Banks Mining, says: “We felt that we had a strong case for quashing this decision and are very pleased that all aspects of our challenge have been validated by the High Court.
“The Highthorn scheme has been examined in extreme detail by both a local authority with substantial experience of the extractive industries and an independent planning inspector, and was found to be a sound scheme that should be allowed to go ahead.
“We would therefore urge Mr Brokenshire to give us permission to progress work at Highthorn as soon as possible, and thereby enable us to extend a track record of investing and creating jobs in Northumberland that stretches back four decades.”
The Highthorn scheme would see Banks Mining create at least 100 well-paid, full-time jobs on the site, invest £87m into the Northumberland economy, keep a total of £200m within the UK economy by not importing three million tonnes of coal that would otherwise come from overseas suppliers, and make supply chain contracts worth a total of £48m available to locally-based businesses.
Gavin Styles continues: “Banks Mining is not a massive multi-national conglomerate, but a family-owned North East business that has been investing and creating local jobs in our home region since 1976, and at a time of great national uncertainty, it is paramount that employers like ourselves are able to make their investment decisions on agreed, accepted and respected planning principles.
“We fully support a stable transition to a low carbon economy and are already working successfully within the framework set by Government to phase coal from the electricity generating system, but the fact remains that there will be a clear and recognised need for coal during this phase-out period to serve a range of essential UK industrial, manufacturing, domestic and energy generation needs.
“It has been made clear during the Highthorn decision process that there is both a benefit to the UK and to the environment by locally producing the minerals we need for things like steel, cement, food and electricity production, rather than importing them thousands of miles from places like Russia, the US and Colombia.
“Supporting skilled British jobs, delivering regional environmental and conservation enhancements, avoiding the carbon emissions caused by importing the coal supplies that the UK still needs, and providing a secure domestic supply of energy by meeting our continuing need for coal through domestic reserves makes far greater sense than relying on coal imports from potentially-unstable overseas markets that are thousands of miles away.
“Both our highly-skilled workforce and local residents have already had to endure well over two years of uncertainty about if and when Highthorn will go ahead since planning permission was first granted, and we would strongly urge the Secretary of State to now remove this uncertainty by allowing us to move this scheme forward.
“We are committed to working Highthorn in the safest, most efficient and most environmentally responsible way possible, just as we have done at more than 110 previous sites, and to delivering a wide range of local employment, supply chain, tourism and environmental benefits that will have a positive impact on the local area for many years to come.”