Widdrington villagers split over new opencast application

A SPLIT has developed between neighbouring villagers over plans for a new opencast coal mine in an area affected by the industry for seven decades.

Brenda Fordy-Scott with Sam Thistlethwaite
Brenda Fordy-Scott with Sam Thistlethwaite

A SPLIT has developed between neighbouring villagers over plans for a new opencast coal mine in an area affected by the industry for seven decades.

Banks Mining wants to dig 750,000 tonnes of reserves from the Ferneybeds site – on the boundary between the parishes of Widdrington Station/ Stobswood and Widdrington Village – north of Morpeth.

With the help of local residents, Banks has already reduced the working life of the proposed mine from four to three years, and made other changes aimed at protecting neighbours from any harmful impacts.

Now Brenda Fordy-Scott, who chairs the Widdrington Station residents’ association and is a leading member of the local Coastal Villages community forum, has thrown her support behind the scheme.

She has praised the community consultation carried out by Banks, and backed the benefits which she says the opencast mine will bring to the area. Yesterday, however, other local community leaders took a different view, predicting opposition to another mine in an area that has been opencasted since the 1940s. Banks Mining, which is preparing to submit a planning application to the county council, says the Ferneybeds site will support 40 jobs and result in a £75,000 community benefits package.

Mrs Fordy-Scott – whose Coastal Villages community forum is not recognised by several local parish councils – has chaired the Widdrington Station residents’ association for more than 20 years.

She said: “We live in an area where there is a valuable mineral asset and, in my opinion, this needs to be worked in a way which brings maximum benefit to the community, which is something that Banks have aligned themselves with as well.

“There are lots of strong opinions in the area due to the past experiences we’ve had with other companies over recent decades, and Banks showed themselves to be willing to talk and listen to the people that cared the most about this issue from the start.

“For example, re-routing the coal lorries to keep them away from Mile Road, and reducing the duration of mining operations, were issues about which we felt very strongly, and this was clearly recognised through the changes they made.

“The way in which the consultation process has worked encourages me to believe that Banks would operate the Ferneybeds site in the responsible way that they’ve promised, and our community stands to reap benefits from this project that would have a positive long-term impact for everyone living here.”

Joe Sennett, chairman of Widdrington Station parish council, said a survey carried out last year showed 85% of locals were against further opencasting. “We are mandated by that result to say no to the Ferneybeds scheme. This place has been hammered by opencasting for 70 years.

“It annoys me when this Coastal Villages forum says things like this, because they are not recognised by seven local parish councils, are self-elected and answerable to no one.”

Dale Page, who chairs the residents’ association in Widdrington Village, said: “We have not done a formal survey but the general feedback is pretty negative to having yet another opencast mine.

“People feel there has been so much here already that enough is enough.”

Val Seddon, who chairs Widdrington Village parish council, said Mrs Fordy-Scott and her colleagues did not represent the views of the wider community in the area.

Mark Dowdall, Banks’ environment and community director, said: “We’ve worked hard over a long period of time to actively involve as many local people as possible in the development and finalisation of our proposals for Ferneybeds.

“It’s pleasing that the validity of our approach has been recognised by Mrs Fordy-Scott, and other members of the community.”

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