Photograph by Leslie Garland Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo
A new surface coal mine could be created on the scenic Northumberland coast if an application is approved next month.
Banks Mining wants to create a three million tonne (Mt) opencast mine which will operate for seven years from an area of 250 hectares at Druridge Bay, between Widdrington and Cresswell.
The project has attracted opposition from local residents, Friends of the Earth and the Northumberland Wildlife Trust (NWT), which have lodged multiple objections based on its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, water and wildlife.
Coal from the Highthorn Mine, as it will be known, is likely to be burned locally. The planning application states that it would go to coal-fired power stations “and other industrial and domestic markets”. Cottan, Ratcliffe on Soar, Drax and West Burton power stations are already being supplied with Northumbrian coal from Banks’ existing sites at Brenkley and Shotton.
Those opposing the mine say this flies in the face of commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the government’s announcement in November that it will phase out all unabated coal by 2025 to meet carbon budgets.
Highthorn would be operational until 2024, but Friends of the Earth expects Banks to try to extend this and increase the tonnage in future.Energy campaigner Guy Shrubsole told ENDS the original mine proposal was 7Mt but had been reduced to make it more acceptable.
The NGO points to the national planning policy framework which states: “Permission should not be given for the extraction of coal unless the proposal is environmentally acceptable, or can be made so by planning conditions or obligations; or if not, it provides national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh the likely impacts to justify the grant of planning permission.”
The NGO says the national benefits in the application are “based on out-of-date information, given the phase-out of coal and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the likely impacts are unacceptable”.
Potential impacts include the visual impact on the designated heritage coast, groundwater contamination, damage to local nature sites, displacement of species, potential impacts on a proposed marine conservation zone and cumulative effects with other mines.
Pink-footed geese and yellow wagtail are among the species that will be affected and there is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) a few hundred metres from the site that the NWT is concerned will be affected.
Banks says its biodiversity action plan minimises impacts during operation and that target species will be monitored and action taken to “improve opportunities for those species”.
It also says it will implement a strong environmental management system to “minimise the risk of unacceptable hydrological effects”.
But the NWT says the environmental impact assessment (EIA) does not “provide significant assurance that there will not be any detrimental impact” on sites or species, “especially those that have international, national protection through statute”.
Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at the Banks Group, says he is very disappointed with the NGOs’ positions but notes that “no technical objections have been made by them to the suitability of the proposed site itself for this sort of work”.
Banks has offered to create a new area of wetland and wildlife habitats equivalent to the size of 160 football pitches as part of its proposal. Dowdall says that the NWT had described the plans as “potentially transformative in providing habitat links” and that Natural England had not objected.
“Coal is and will remain an important part of the UK’s energy mix, at least in the medium term. In the last year, around 25% of the electricity … was produced through coal, yet over 85% of that coal was imported from overseas,” he says.
“It makes far greater sense to support north east jobs, 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,” says Dowdall.
A decision on the application is expected at the beginning of July.
There are a number of proposals in the planning pipeline for opencast coal mines in England and Wales, totalling 11Mt:
Nant Llesg, South Wales: 6Mt
Highthorn, Northumberland: 3Mt
Tower Colliery, South Wales: 1.2Mt
Dewley Hill, Newcastle: 800,000t
Hilltop, Derbyshire: 200,000t
In August 2015, Caerphilly council rejected plans for the 6Mt coal mine at Nant Llesg, citing visual impacts as its reasons for rejection, with a strong consideration of the climate change impacts and impact on the local community by council members.
Mining firm Miller Argent appealed the decision on 23 December but the appeal has stalled because the Planning Inspectorate Wales is waiting for extra paperwork relating to the environmental statement.
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