Unite the Union backs positive decision on Highthorn surface mine

April 3, 2020 | Highthorn News

Pictured above: Jerry Swain, Unite the Union's national office for construction

Britain and Ireland’s biggest trade union is calling on the government to give the go-ahead to a new Northumberland surface mine.

Unite the Union has written to Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, to urge him to allow Banks Mining to start work on the Highthorn surface mine near Widdrington Station.

A recent letter sent to Banks Mining on behalf of the secretary of state suggested that the government hopes to announce its decision no later than 7th April 2020.

And now, Jerry Swain, Unite the Union’s national officer for construction, has highlighted the government’s recent support for the British Steel blast furnace at Scunthorpe as an indication of the importance that it places on the UK retaining the ability to manufacture its own raw steel for use in major national infrastructure projects.

In the letter, he says: “The UK requires around five to six million tonnes of coal, per annum, to manufacture steel, cement and for other industrial processes such as carbon fibre production, as well as powering heritage railways, traction engines and steam pumping houses.

“As it is, the vast majority of coal needed by the UK is already imported from Russia, Colombia, the USA and Australia, and importing coal such huge distances is clearly causing more damage to the environment than using locally-mined coal.

“It is also worth noting that the UK Government has been effectively propping up the British Steel blast furnace at Scunthorpe…(which)…clearly demonstrates the importance that it places on the UK retaining the ability to manufacture its own raw steel, in order to support the building of major national infrastructure projects

“The UK steel industry needs its own associated indigenous supply chain, creating many more jobs in local communities, and we urge you to approve this planning application.”

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 £120m within the UK economy by not requiring the importation of 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.

The company gained unanimous, cross-party approval for its planning application from Northumberland County Council in July 2016, only for the decision to subsequently be called in for review by the then-secretary of state Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP.

Mr Javid overruled his own planning inspector and refused planning permission in March 2018, despite the inspector saying that Highthorn was ‘in the national interest’ and should be approved, and the High Court then quashed the secretary of state’s unlawful decision in the following November.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, adds: “We’re grateful for Unite’s support on this project, which complements the backing we’ve had from many people in the local community who understand why Highthorn ought to have been given the go ahead a long time ago.

“At a time when ministers are quite rightly paying tribute to all those who are working tirelessly within the construction industry and producing essential construction and mineral products, it would be a real blow and somewhat perverse to see this application blocked or further delayed – if it was, the only beneficiaries would be the coal industries of Russia, the US and Australia.

“Around 30 million tonnes of coal have been imported into the UK since Northumberland County Council first approved the Highthorn scheme in July 2016, a figure ten times higher than the three million tonnes we want to mine there.

“The UK currently imports 86% of its coal that it uses, even though the carbon transport costs of dragging this coal halfway around the planet are enormous, and while UK industry still needs essential minerals like coal and fireclay for things like steel and cement manufacturing and to make bricks for house building, which it will for at least the next 10-15 years, there is no environmental or economic sense whatsoever in sourcing supplies from thousands of miles away when they are readily available at home.

“At a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, a positive decision on Highthorn would help give some much-needed confidence around north east jobs and investment, as well as contributing to the UK’s balance of payments and delivering tangible benefits to local communities – and all at no extra cost to the Exchequer.”

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