Site exploration pic oneA series of geological investigations into the physical make-up of the site of a proposed new surface mine in south east Northumberland has started.

North East civil engineering company Allied Exploration & Geotechnics Ltd (AEG) has been called in by Banks Mining to drill a series of small diameter boreholes at different locations on the Highthorn site, to the south east of the village of Widdrington, from which undisturbed  samples of material can be removed for analysis.

The samples taken from the boreholes, which will go down to a depth of up to 30m, will be analysed in a laboratory, with the results being fed into the surface mine design work that Banks is currently undertaking for the Highthorn project.

Work is already ongoing, and is expected to last until around the end of January.

Family-owned Banks recently submitted a scoping report to Northumberland County Council which reflected changes made to its outline ideas for the Highthorn project in light of its initial discussions with and feedback from the local community.

These changes include 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.

If it is approved, the Highthorn scheme would help to sustain significant numbers of local jobs, and would also help facilitate real and lasting social, economic and environmental benefits for the communities in the surrounding area.

David Blythe of DAB Geotechnics Ltd., who is also working on the project, says: “We’re well aware of the geology of the site from previous investigations, but by taking undisturbed samples of the shallow clay deposits that form a covering layer and carrying out specialised testing in a laboratory, we shall be able to better inform the scheme design work that Banks are carrying out.”

Banks, which employs more than 200 people at its Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines near Cramlington, is expecting to submit a Highthorn planning application in later in 2015, and has just begun a series of community workshops to enable ideas from local people to influence the project’s design.

New children’s facilities, improved footpaths and cyclepaths, new tourist facilities, improved internet and phone coverage and new sports facilities were some of the ideas already suggested by local people when asked about new community facilities they would like to see provided if the Highthorn scheme goes ahead.

The provision of local employment opportunities, apprenticeships and contract opportunities for local suppliers were the main areas in which survey respondents felt the project should be assisting the local economy.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, adds: “Work on the design of this scheme is progressing well, and having carried out numerous explorations of the site ourselves, we’ve brought in two North East firms to independently assess how the geology of the Highthorn site fits together.

“The information that analysis of their work will provide will enable us to assess how physical layout of the site might be shaped, and will enable us to design operations in the most appropriate and efficient manner possible.

“The Highthorn site represents one of the best and largest remaining coal resources in England, and would enable to us to continue our long-term investment in the local economy.

“Our mining operations currently contribute around £35m every year to the economy of the surrounding area through wages and the local supply chain, and we are committed to bringing forward a scheme that helps to sustain this contribution by delivering tangible, long-term economic, environmental, employment and social benefits to the surrounding area.

“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 grants and donations, and we hope to continue in all of these roles over the long-term, something which the Highthorn project would enable us to do.”

For further information on the Highthorn project or to register your support for it, please visit