Goddess slimmed down in new plan

A massive earth sculpture of a naked, reclining woman - already dubbed the Goddess of the North - is being slimmed down in a bid to win approval for a controversial opencast mine in Northumberland.

A massive earth sculpture of a naked, reclining woman - already dubbed the Goddess of the North - is being slimmed down in a bid to win approval for a controversial opencast mine in Northumberland.

It is planned to create the 500m-long, 30m-high Northumberlandia artform from soil excavated during the mining operations at Shotton near Cramlington.

Consultants have claimed it could attract 200,000 visitors and become an iconic landmark like the Angel of the North.

Now the company behind the project says the size of the flagship sculpture will have to be reduced as part of revised plans aimed at overcoming strong public opposition to the opencast scheme.

The Banks Group's original mining proposals sparked 2,500 letters of objection and opposition from five local drug and chemical companies. Now it has submitted revised and scaled-down proposals to Northumberland County Council in an attempt to come up with a scheme which is acceptable to planners.

Changes include cutting the timescale of the mining operation from 10 years to eight, reducing the working area by 105 acres and greatly increasing the distances between the site boundary and surrounding businesses and homes.

The amount of coal to be extracted has dropped from five million tonnes to 3.4 million, there is a one million-tonne reduction in the amount of shale to be dug and materials would only be dispatched between 7am and 7pm on weekdays instead of round the clock.

Yesterday Banks Group divisional director Mark Dowdall said the revised plans had been drawn up in response to extensive consultation and feedback from the local community and businesses.

He said public support for the project was shown by 500 letters and a petition of more than 1,500 signatures from people in the Shotton area and across the region.

"Feedback about the Northumberlandia landform has been very positive and, while it has been reduced in size, it is still very much a key part of the scheme," he added.

The county council, which has earmarked Shotton as an area where opencast plans should be resisted, will carry out further public consultations on the revised scheme.

Last night Lynn Kelly, who lives near the site with her husband Kieran and two sons and is part of the anti-opencast group Scram, described the changes as a "desperation measure" which would not allay fears about the health, economic and environmental impacts of the mining scheme.

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