Banks in court trying to get permission to mine at Druridge Bay
19th October 2018
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This week Banks Group went to the High Court to try and get a decision made by the Secretary of State for Communities, Housing and Local Government over-ruled on a new opencast extraction near to Druridge Bay in Northumberland.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) says, “149. Permission should not be given for the extraction of coal unless the proposal is environmentally acceptable, or can be made so by planning conditions or obligations; or if not, it provides national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh the likely impacts to justify the grant of planning permission.

Banks Group’s barrister argued that the negative consequences of a new three million tonne opencast were counted twice when the inspector made the above calculation.

The barrister for the Secretary of State argued that this wasn’t the case, with Friends of the Earth’s barrister adding that in his opinion the Secretary of State had actually included supposed benefits from Banks Group which should have been omitted, so the exercise should have been even less favourable for the coal company.

Banks Group repeatedly stated incorrectly that power station coal came to the UK from both Poland and China, claiming that if coal wasn’t extracted at Highthorn then it would come from these countries instead which would result in greater amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, due to the increased transport.

The barrister representing the government said that there is a presumption in planning in favour of minerals, but that coal lies somewhere between other minerals and peat and thus paragraph 149 of the NPPF tries to ensure coal is only extracted where the environmental harm is minimised.

The NPPF has changed since this decision was made. Coal is no longer seen as a mineral of great national importance, consistent with the coal phase-out, although the NPPF could have diminished coal’s status further.

The appellant claimed that the RSPB and Wildlife Trust was largely satisfied with the accommodations made for rare pink footed geese and yellow wagtails. Save Drurdige’s barrister pointed out that both organisations were still objecting to the application.

The Secretary of State’s barrister argued that digging up this coal meant that it would be built, where as leaving it in the ground left capacity in the electricity market available for renewables or new battery storage to fill.

The coal company seem to misunderstand the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. Given that Bank’s “restoration first approach” of providing “enhancements for wildlife” prior to coal extraction beginning, the company would like us to believe that there would be a net benefit for ecology.

This ignores scientific agreement that climate change is creating hostile environments worldwide, diminishing the ability of the planet to support niche ecological systems, by pushing plant and animal communities towards the poles. Burning fossil fuels is reducing the quantity of land and seas able to support life. The destruction caused by climate change resulting from greenhouse gasses

due to burning this coal will be greater than the area of land Banks proposes reserving for wildlife.

The judge appeared to consider all side’s points

but gave no indication as to which way he was likely to rule. It is likely to be a wait of over a month before his judgement is given.

If Banks Group’s appeal to the High Court is successful the Secretary of State will likely be ordered to remake his decision. This could still result in either a decision in favour of the opencast or a decision against this opencast with stronger legal reasoning for doing so.

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  1. Dr David Golding CBE

    From David W. Golding CBE PhD DSc DCL, Institute for Sustainability and Honorary Chaplain, Newcastle University

    It’s as I feared: the issue is being argued mainly on the basis of the narrow interpretation of planning laws, and fails to reflect major recent developments in national policy and treaty obligations such as the Paris Agreement.

    True, according to your report, “the Secretary of State’s barrister argued that digging up this coal meant that it would be built, whereas leaving it in the ground left capacity in the electricity market available for renewables or new battery storage to fill”. This reflects the evidence given to the Public Inquiry by Newcastle University’s Professor Phil Taylor, an expert on renewable energy of international renown, who has stated that consent for the mine would not only result in increased carbon emissions, but would also send quite the wrong signal to finance and industry nationally, and thereby “inhibit the development of a new energy system based around renewables.”

    But even more serious would be the damage to Britain’s reputation and influence abroad and the apparent absence of any mention of this aspect is deeply worrying. Mr John Ashton CBE, who served three Foreign Secretaries as Special Representative on Climate Change, told the Inquiry that:

    “The goal of UK climate diplomacy has been to accelerate the move away from fossil energy, and especially from unabated coal, across all the major economies… But the foundation for all effective diplomacy is action at home. If you do not walk your talk, those you seek to influence stop listening… If we were to press ahead with the development of new coal resources at home… we would be cutting our climate diplomacy off at the knees, and undermining our fundamental national interest in a successful global response to climate change.”

    Just so – we have to ‘walk our talk’! In contrast, consent for any new thermal coal mine here would serve as a ‘green light’ for further exploitation of this most polluting of fuels throughout the world. “The time for coal has passed”, stated Claire Perry, the UK’s Climate Change Minister, on 16th November, in connection with its ‘Powering Past Coal Alliance’ initiative – a development which post-dated the Public Inquiry. Consequently, the Government cannot possibly grant consent for the mine, without the loss of all semblance of ‘joined-up government’ and without forfeiting all credibility internationally.

    In contrast to the intelligence and grasp displayed by those quoted above, the gross irresponsibility (incompetence?) of supporters of new coal mines was graphically illustrated by the submission of Juan Lopez, on behalf of Northumberland County Council, to the Public Inquiry. Mr Lopez stated that, “When analysing the application, the council hadn’t had a comprehensive debate about the climate change aspect”. But why not, given that I submitted emphatic statements by six of the UK’s leading climate and energy experts to the Council, many months before the meeting of its planning committee?

    Even worse, Mr Lopez said that climate and energy policy was “a debate for another day”! Contrast this, with the statement on 7th June 2005, by Lord Robert May, President of the Royal Society, but speaking on behalf of the national academies of science of all the G8 nations, when he said that, “Never before have we faced such a global threat… the longer we procrastinate, the more difficult the task of tackling climate change becomes”.
    Similarly, the Manifesto issued by the St James’s Palace Nobel Laureate Symposium (26-28th May, 2009), involving around 60 leading scientists from various disciplines, among them 20 Nobel Prize winners (our finest scientific minds), stated that “We know what needs to be done. We cannot wait until it is too late. We cannot wait until what we value most is lost”.

    “The longer we procrastinate, the more difficult the task becomes” – and yet here we were, twelve years later, hearing that this is a “debate for another day” – a day when it will already be too late to prevent a slide into climate chaos, perhaps? It simply beggars belief!

    As Claire Perry and Catherine McKenna, the Climate Ministers for the UK and Canada, respectively, stated at the launch of their new Powering Past Coal Alliance at COP 23 in Bonn on 16th November 2017, “The time for coal has passed” and “Coal is not coming back”. That being so, and in view of the IPCC’s recent report calling for an “unprecedented” effort to keep the rise in global temperature to 1.5C, the application to create a new surface coal mine at Highthorn, Northumberland, and all such proposals, must be rejected.

    Dr David Golding CBE

    Office, 0191 208 4866

    david.golding@ncl.ac.uk