A MAJOR new opencast coal scheme – in an area which has lived with the impacts of the industry for decades – has won the backing of local community representatives.
Banks Mining wants to dig 752,000 tonnes of coal over three years from the Ferneybeds site near the village of Widdrington Station, Northumberland.
Surface mining has taken place in the area for 70 years, and several previous bids for opencasting have been strongly opposed by local people who say they have endured enough.
Now the Banks Mining application has been given the support of Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council, which has previously voiced concerns about the project.
Parish leaders have written to the county council to express their backing for the scheme – which will provide about 40 local jobs, generate a £75,000 community benefits fund and create a nature corridor in the site reclamation plans.
The letter commends Banks for taking notice of comments made at local community workshop meetings and taking on board residents’ concerns about issues such as access to the mine.
The details of the scheme were finalised with the help of about 20 local people, who took part in a series of planning workshops organised by the company. The workshops resulted in changes to access and compound proposals, coal lorries not being allowed to use Widdrington Station’s Mile Road, the lifetime of the mining operation being reduced and improvements in the screening of the site from the village.
Parish council chairman Joe Sennett said: “Our community is very well used to surface mining, and has sometimes been let down by other companies that haven’t lived up to the promises they made.
“Right from the start of the consultation process, Banks were very up-front, explaining what was planned, listening to what we had to say and making changes to their plans in response to the concerns we expressed. Surface mining still plays an important role in our community from both an employment and economic point of view.
“We feel Banks have done everything asked of them by local people, and the big thing is the reduction in the life of the opencast to just three years.”
Yesterday Val Seddon, who chairs neighbouring Widdrington Village Parish Council, said it will not be opposing the Ferneybeds scheme, while stopping short of formally supporting it.
She said: “We feel this is a relatively benign application, compared to the two wind farm schemes we are faced with here, and won’t be objecting to it. However, we are not actively supporting it either, but taking a neutral stance.
“This opencast will be in a defined area and of a very short duration. However, there are still other mining proposals in the pipeline here so we feel we can’t come all out in support of it.”
Mark Dowdall, Banks’ environment and community director, said the firm had tried to understand the views of people living around the Ferneybeds site, and change its initial plans to reflect this.
“The very welcome support that Widdrington Station and Stobswood parish council has given to our proposals reflects the quality and suitability of the design that we have put forward for the site, and we hope we are given an opportunity to provide a further boost to employment and investment in the area through its approval.”
The scheme has already been given the backing of the local Coastal Villages Community Forum.