Still no decision from the Secretary of State

James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, has failed to deliver with a decision regarding the future of two places in the North East of England affected by Banks Groups opencast coal extractions.

A decision was promised to the community trying to stop an opencast at Druridge Bay (Highthorn) on the Northumbrian coastline, and to people living next to an opencast in the Pont Valley in County Durham on the 13th June. The Druridge Bay application was called in during 2016 and the Secretary of State was first asked to intervene in the Pont Valley in February 2018.

A couple of days prior to the decision date the lawyers working for Save Druridge, June Davison (living in the Pont Valley) and Friends of the Earth were told that the decision was delayed and that there would be an update at the end of June. This did not happen, on the 4th July the Secretary of State’s Ministry in a letter said, “I am afraid we are not yet in a position to provide a timetable for decision… we will provide a further update in due course.

Now the communities at Drurdige Bay and in the Pont Valley as well as those objecting to a new application to extract coal at Dewley Hill on the outskirts of Newcastle are still awaiting a decision. For those living next to Banks’ operational mine in the Pont Valley this means that any hope of a meaningful change to the current permission is slipping away, because the opencast started over a year ago, conversely at Druridge the longer delay is likely to be frustrating Banks Group as we come closer to the 2025 coal phase-out.

The reasons to reject Banks Group’s opencasts are strong. New government figures show that the UK has more than double the coal for electricity than it will ever require. This coal is sitting in stockpiles at power stations, while more of it is still being dug up from the ground and imported.

Banks Group has submitted an application for a new opencast at Dewley Hill and intends to extent operations in the Pont Valley.

The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government has not said when it will actually make the decision, but the continued delay suggests that it cares little for the communities at the front-lines of resource extraction and climate change.

This is not the first delay, the Ministry said its original decision not to revoke planning in the Pont Valley was “flawed” and promised to remake the decision with reasons by the 25th February. It later said it would make the decision alongside the remaking of the decision regarding Druridge Bay following a High court appeal by Banks Group which ordered the Secretary of State to reconsider his predecessors decision to prevent opencasing at Druridge.

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