North East employer Banks Mining is developing plans for the proposed Highthorn surface mining scheme, a project which it believes could offer real and lasting social, economic and environmental benefits for the surrounding area, as well as helping to sustain a significant number of jobs.
The land to the north of the C116, which runs between the villages of Widdrington and Druridge, has been removed from the latest version of Banks’ proposals after alternative locations were agreed for the elements of the mine’s operations that were being considered for this area.
However, Banks will still be considering what ecological, landscape and environmental improvements could be delivered within this area as part of the Highthorn project, which could begin while coaling is still ongoing as part of the ‘restoration first’ principle under which the company works.
The changes were outlined at the second of a series of community workshops that Banks Mining has set up to enable local residents, community groups, employers and community leaders to meet with the Highthorn project team and help to shape the project plans they’re developing.
Around 90 people attended the event, which was chaired by an independent facilitator and held at theWiddrington Station community centre.
Family-owned Banks submitted a scoping report for the project to Northumberland County Council before Christmas which reflected previous changes made to its outline ideas for the project in light of its initial discussions with and feedback from the local community.
These changes included the time between the proposed start of operations in 2016 to the completion of restoration being reduced from 13 years to between eight and ten years, and the removal of 114 hectares to the east of Widdrington village from the study area being considered for the scheme.
Banks currently employs more than 200 people at its Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines near Cramlington, and its local operations contribute around £35m to the regional economy every year through wages, investments, business rates and the local supply chain.
The Highthorn site, which is located to the south east of the village of Widdrington, represents one of the best and largest remaining coal resources in England, and could provide the opportunity for the continuation of Banks Mining’s long-term investment in the local economy.
A planning application for the scheme is expected to be submitted later in the year.
Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, says: “We work hard to include local people, groups and community leaders in the development, operation and restoration of our surface mines, an inclusive approach which has often led to changes being made to the planning applications we submit and the working practices we adopt.
“Involving as many people as possible at an early stage in the Highthorn development process means we can fully understand their views, which can then have a direct influence on the plans that we submit and on the benefits that we can bring to their area, and we’re very pleased with the numbers of people who’ve attended our first two events.
“The latest area that we’ve removed from our plans means that we would no longer need to cross the C116 at all or carry out any coal extraction or storage activities on the land to the north of this road, which addresses one of the key issues raised with us during our community discussions, and takes the project boundaries even further away from Widdrington village and the properties at Druridge.
“We are still, considering what environmental, landscape and ecological improvements to this area are achievable and appropriate as part of the project’s overall restoration, which will be designed in conjunction with local priorities.
“We are still keen to gather as many comments and ideas about our plans as we can from local people, and will remain very active in the community to ensure we’re able to do this.
“Banks is one of Northumberland’s largest private-sector employers, a substantial contributor to the local economy and a long-standing supporter of many of the surrounding communities through the Banks Community Fund, and we hope to continue in all of these roles over the long-term, something which the Highthorn project would enable us to do.”
Local people interested in attending the next workshop, a date for which will be announced in the near future, are asked to pre-register by contacting the Highthorn project team on 0844 209 1515 (local rate call from a BT landline) or visiting www.banksgroup.co.uk/highthorn. Support for the project can also be expressed via the website.