Tourism and wildlife organisations are being closely consulted over plans for a massive new opencast coal mine close to one of the region’s leading coastal beauty spots.
Banks Mining – the company which created the giant Northumberlandia earth sculpture – has unveiled proposals to dig about seven million tonnes of coal over 10 years on land near Druridge Bay in Northumberland.
The 1,700-acre site, known as Highthorn, lies between the villages of Ellington and Widdrington.
Banks says it will provide more than 150 jobs over the next decade and beyond, and make a big contribution to the economy of the area.
It would be the biggest surface mining operation in Northumberland since the 14 million-tonne Stobswood site was worked by UK Coal in the 1990s.
Banks has just started initial consultations with local communities and organisations on the scheme but says it has the potential to spark a major regeneration of the area. It is working closely with Northumberland Tourism and the Northumberland Wildlife Trust to discuss a range of tourism and nature conservation benefits from the restoration phase of the project.
The company also plans to consult widely with local residents and parish councils in an area that has been affected by opencast mining for decades.
The Highthorn site is said to be one of the biggest and best remaining coal resources in England, and Banks believes its scheme will result in a high quality restoration of the land which was previously opencasted in the 1950s.
Yesterday Jude Leitch, development manager with Northumberland Tourism, said: ”We are not actively supporting this opencast scheme but if the local community are happy with it, and planning permission is given, we would hope there will be significant tourism benefits from it.
“We are excited about the Highthorn project, and the potential to attract new people to the area and have new things for them to do when they come and visit.”
Mike Pratt, chief executive of the Wildlife Trust, said: “Highthorn has the potential to create a nature park which would enhance and add to what we’ve already got at Druridge Bay.”
Val Seddon, who chairs Widdrington Parish Council, added: “When the Steadsburn site was approved a few years ago, we were told there would be no more opencast mining in this parish. I’m not really sure how people will take this one, because at 10 years it is a lengthy scheme. Druridge Bay is becoming increasingly popular for tourism.
“While this site would be quite well back from the beach, I’m not sure how much effect the noise will have on visitors and locals. What I can say is that the parish council will want to work very closely with Banks, because we want the best possible outcome for our residents.”
Banks said it does not expect to submit a planning application until autumn 2014. If it is approved, work could start in 2016, with extraction completed by 2027 and restoration three years later.
Katie Perkin, the company’s communications manager, said: “We know this area extremely well and, with its proximity to the popular beach and wildlife attractions at Druridge Bay, we understand that the Highthorn proposal is a unique and sensitive location.
“Our planned investment has the potential to offer so much to both local people and visitors to the area.
“We are therefore announcing our intentions at the earliest possible opportunity to start a dialogue with local residents, businesses, tourism bodies and visitors, so that we can understand their views better, and enable them to have a direct influence on the site’s design and the benefits it will bring to the area.
“We want Highthorn to set a new benchmark for modern minerals developments, delivering significant economic input alongside substantial benefits for the local community and wildlife alike.”
Banks recently secured unanimous approval from Northumberland County Council’s planning committee for its Ferneybeds opencast mine near Widdrington Station. That scheme was designed with the help of a panel comprising local people and community leaders, and the same approach will be taken to the Highthorn project.