A long-standing mineral planning permission which allows for the removal of up to 62,000 tonnes of sand from the beach and dunes at Druridge Bay in Northumberland every year will be set aside if plans for a proposed new surface mine in the area get the go ahead.
North East employer Banks Mining is developing separate plans for the proposed Highthorn surface mining scheme several hundred metres inland from the dunes, a project which the company 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 mineral planning permission for the sand extraction has been in place for more than 45 years and covers more than a mile-long stretch of Druridge beach, opposite Hemscott Hill.
The permission, which is not held by Banks, is under review by Northumberland County Council, but cannot be extinguished without the County Council being liable for substantial compensation payments to the holder.
The issue has been flagged up as a matter of local concern during Banks Mining’s community discussions about the Highthorn project, and having investigated whether it would be able to secure a permanent halt to the removal of any further sand as part of its operation of the proposed surface mine, the family-owned firm has now reached an agreement with the holder to do just that.
The plan has won the support of Councillor Michael Wright, chairman of Cresswell Parish Council, who has had long-standing concerns about the impact of the removal of sand from the area, and was in attendance when a Northumberland County Council planning officer took GPS measurements of the sand depths on the beach and coast road.
He says: “Druridge Bay is an area of outstanding beauty, an area of Special Scientific Interest and a wildlife corridor. The dunes there have evolved over a long period of time and provide a natural defence against the high tides that can sometimes affect the area, a defence which could be much more easily breached if the level of sand is further reduced.
“When torrential rain caused Newcastle’s Quayside to flood a couple of years ago, we had an extremely high tide at Druridge which caused some flooding on the coast road that runs alongside it, and without the buffer that the dunes provide, it would have been significantly worse.
“Banks Mining has been very conscientious in covering the environmental and restoration issues relating to their Highthorn proposals, as well as proactive in their consultations across the local community, and the opportunity to prevent further sand being removed from this special place seems like one we should be looking to take.”
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 Northumberland, where it has worked for more than three decades.
The most recent version of the Highthorn proposal has seen around 460 hectares of land to the north of the C116 road, which runs between the villages of Widdrington and Druridge, removed from the outline design after alternative locations were agreed for the parts of the mine’s operations that were being considered for this area.
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.
Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, adds: “Any operations at Highthorn would take place several hundred yards away from Druridge Bay itself and we have looked at the various ways in which we can also protect and enhance the wider area around it.
“Druridge Bay dunes and beach are a wonderful natural resource that are regularly enjoyed by many people and families, and while the removal of sand from there has been carried out perfectly legally for many years, we believe calling a halt to it would have a positive impact on this highly-valued area.
“We know from our community discussions that being able to permanently halt any further sand removal from the dunes would be warmly welcomed by many local people, and it would also eliminate the substantial financial liabilities that Northumberland County Council would face if they acted to stop it themselves, thus protecting the public purse for additional costs that it can well do without.
“Highthorn would offer real and lasting opportunities for the surrounding area for which it would otherwise be impossible to find the necessary funding, and would also bring a wide range of other economic, employment, social and supply chain benefits to the local community.
“With up to 40% of the electricity that we all use to power our homes, businesses, schools and hospitals being produced through coal, it is and will remain a central part of the UK’s energy mix for the foreseeable future, and it makes far greater sense from an economic, environmental, employment and energy security point of view to mine our own indigenous coal reserves rather than relying on imports of coal and gas from potentially-unstable overseas markets.”
Banks Mining is expecting to submit a planning application for the Highthorn scheme later this year. For further information on the Highthorn project, and to register support for it, please visit www.banksgroup.co.uk/highthorn