Tourism chiefs are hoping that a massive new opencast coal mine proposed in Northumberland will ultimately improve tourist facilities.
Encouraged by the success of the £3m Northumberlandia earth sculpture - which was created as part of a surface mine near Cramlington - Northumberland Tourism is now keen to see the vital industry benefit from the latest opencast scheme.
The agency, which is responsible for developing the county’s visitor industry, is working closely with developer Banks Mining on the proposal to dig seven million tonnes of coal over 10 years from the 1,700-acre Highthorn, site between Widdrington and Ellington.
There are no plans to create another Northumberlandia, the massive landform dubbed the Lady of the North which is now attracting thousands of visitors to the Banks’ surface mine at Shotton.
However, local people in the Widdrington area will be asked for ideas on how the proposed Highthorn mine can provide improved tourism facilities linked to nearby Druridge Bay and its surrounding natural attractions.
Already, enhanced cycle routes and wildlife-related tourism activities have been flagged up as potential ideas.
Jude Leitch, development manager for Northumberland Tourism, said: ”We have some wonderful things for people to come and see, which have been here for hundreds of years.
“So it’s really exciting when something new happens that’s going to enhance the landscape and the reputation of Northumberland as somewhere to come and visit.
“The south east of the county, in particular, has benefited from the Northumberlandia project. It has been an area that has perhaps been left out a little bit in our wider tourism offer, so we are excited by the chance of attracting new people to that area, and having new things for them to do.
“Banks have been really good at coming and talking to us as one of the organisations in Northumberland that is concerned with tourism and the development of the county.
“They have talked to us about how they can make sure that the work they are doing doesn’t have a detrimental effect on the county and its tourism offer. We’ve already had quite extensive dialogue about the Highthorn project, which will continue from here.”
Banks is in the early stages of consultation on the Highthorn scheme, and doesn’t expect to submit a planning application until next summer at the earliest.
Communications manager, Katie Perkin, said: ”Northumberlandia provides clear evidence of how Banks’ innovation can contribute to the creation of an outstanding visitor attraction and community facility, which will have a positive long-term impact on the area. We have similarly high ambitions for Highthorn.
“Working with Northumberland Tourism will put our ideas in the wider context of the county’s continuing development as a visitor destination, and their feedback and advice will be central to the detailed proposals.”