Labour’s Shadow Energy Secretary Barry Gardiner has written to Greg Clark, the minister in charge of planning, urging him to call in the planning application for a new opencast coal mine at Druridge Bay.
With a decision due to be made by Northumberland County Council on 5 May, Mr Gardiner said,
“This planning application for a new opencast mine presents a concrete challenge to a cornerstone policy announcement made by the Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change last autumn. As such, it must be resolved at the government level.”
Mr Gardiner’s letter to the Department of Communities and Local Government, which he has forwarded to the Council’s Planning Committee, explains,
“It is essential that communities and councils have a strong role in determining how energy is produced and generated in their local area. However energy and planning policy from central government with regard to unabated coal is currently sending contradictory signals to local councils.
“This incoherence is in danger of undermining the ability of Northumberland County Council’s Planning Committee to make a reasoned decision on the proposed Highthorn mine that provides appropriate weigh to both the local impacts and national policy objectives.
“Amber Rudd said last November that by 2025 the Government would make “unabated coal a thing of the past”. It cannot be right that planning decisions made within the UK directly undermine this important commitment. It would surely therefore be imprudent for a decision to be made without internal coordination between yourself and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
“Climate change is clearly one of the most fundamental environmental issues related to minerals working and should be addressed by mineral planning authorities. Approving new coal extraction in the UK would undermine stated central government policy to phase out unabated coal by 2025, in line with the UK’s domestic and international climate change commitments.”
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) specifies that planning permission by mineral planning authorities: ‘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, provides national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh the likely impacts to justify the grant of permission.’ It does not however cite climate change as a factor for determining environmental acceptability.
The application by Banks Mining sets out their intention to extract at least three million tonnes of coal from the Highthorn site between 2016 and 2027. This would run beyond the date at which the UK has pledged to “close coal”, in the words of energy minister Andrea Leadsom.