Message from Jos from Defend Dewley Hill

My name is Jos and I’m part of the team at Defend Dewley Hill. We're a group of residents from Throckley near Newcastle, who set out to save our local landscape from opencast coal extraction, and we really need your support.

Banks Mining have applied to extract 800,000 tonnes of coal and 400,000 tonnes of fireclay from Dewley Hill on the fringe of our village in Throckley.

We know that coal is the most catastrophic fossil fuel for our climate and that industries such as steel are rapidly developing new technology to eradicate coal use.

Despite Newcastle City Council declaring a climate emergency, we’re facing the prospect of the last opencast mine in England threatening our village.

None of us set out on the journey to become activists, but this bunch of taxi drivers, occupational therapists, managers, shop assistants, care workers, teachers, young and older people alike, have joined forces to defend the land we live on and have inadvertently become a campaign group together striving to see an end to fossil fuels.

We are raising funds for legal advice to help our group to have the best chance possible of defeating the coal mine this year. Newcastle City Council will make a decision in the month and we need to be ready to challenge the council's expected recommendation to approve it, or to fight the mining company's appeal.

We’ve worked hard to highlight our plight and speak out about our concerns. We’ve held demonstrations and walks on the land. We’ve made films and interviewed people about their past experiences. There are banners round the boundary and we have encouraged thousands of people to object

We're a community full of love for our land and brimming with energy and ideas, but we're not a wealthy community, so the costly legal advice could be a barrier to us in fighting this last leg we so need to win.

The only way we can win this is through reaching out to people who care...which is why we need you.

See the crowdfunder page for more information on the legal actions we are preparing to take to stop the opencast coal site. (https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/defend-dewley-hill/)

Coal is a proud part of our history in the North East, but it is not our future. This is the only remaining application for opencast coal mining in the UK, and if we can defeat it, then there's every chance it will be the last.

Please support us and contribute whatever you can to our crowdfunder to help us make a significant last stand against opencast coal mining.

Thank you

Jos
Defend Dewley Hill

Update- Defend Dewley Hill

Local reasons against Dewley Hill opencast

  • The proposal sits on over 250 acres of Newcastle’s green belt land, which should be protected from development.
  • Opencast coal mining destroys everything that lies over the coal seem. This means the waterways, mature trees, hedgerows, wildlife, top soil, public rights of way are all stripped away.
  • Opencast coal mines are incredibly disruptive to local people. If this opencast went ahead it would increase traffic on the roads, including heavy goods vehicles on the A69. The sites are brightly lit, which is particularly irritating in rural areas in winter to humans and to bats all year round. The machines are noisy, often in an irregular, irritating way. Opencast mining throws up dust, which includes all of the toxins located in the coal.
  • Northumberland Wildlife Trust remains concerned about the impact on farmland birds such as skylark, lapwing and yellowhammer during the active stage of the proposed mine. Hedgerow removal would interrupt animals’ movement through the area.
  • The site lies in the catchment area of the Dewley and Ouse burns. Coal mine dust is toxic as it contains mercury, silica, cadmium, arsenic and the air pollutants which killed underground miners.
  • This application would involve work on the site for 3.5 years. Banks Group may well submit further plans for extensions. Previous applications included coal removal from the east and the west of this proposal, so there is clearly more coal adjacent.
  • The fireclay that could be extracted is not needed and should not be considered as a benefit. Ibstock Brick are a partner in this application. However the council has “confirmed that there is a sufficient landbank of 27 years’ permitted reserves for brick clay from Red Barns Quarry in South Tyneside” according to the Development and Allocation Plan report.
  • How Banks Group intend on putting back the site can only be a degradation on what currently exists or could be created on the site without coal extraction. So called ‘restoration’ cannot put back what was there and the soil structures that biodiversity rely on would be diminished. None of the proposed benefits of restoration need rely on the area being opencast first. Bank Group’s Pegswood leaky lake is still an eye sore well over a decade since coal extraction finished. The companies high claims for ‘restoration’ should be ignored.
  • The Northumberland Wildlife Trust severed ties with Banks Group in May 2019. The Trust’s chief executive, told the Chronicle: “The reason we are [severing ties] is we are now looking to underline the fact that we do not approve of [Banks Group’s] constant applications and proposals for opencast coal extraction…We are totally against coal extraction as a trust”.
  • The proposal is smaller than previous ones on the same site, but the impacts would still be significant for local people and the environment.
  • The proposal threatens jobs in the area and reduces the farm land available for food production. If approved the opencast would be very visible and give a poor impression to tourists in our area who may be less inclined to return.
  • Banks Group won’t be providing new jobs as experienced staff will be moved from nearby opencast operations which have closed. There is no future in coal mining.
  • Residents at Bank’s Bradley site in the Pont Valley Durham reported issues with light pollution, noise, water run offs, inappropriate use of blasting flags, and aggressive security guards. The same issues are likely here if the application were to be approved.
  • Air pollution from the A69 is already a problem, an opencast coal mine in the area would worsen this issue.
  • The company proposed an additional 302 vehicle movements a day to the site entering via Ponteland road, the B6323, everyday. Banks propose a simple T-junction which could cause congestion and be intimidating for vulnerable road users such as cyclists.
  • The £50,000 offered in total to community groups is a bribe to accept something which is not acceptable. Clean air and wide open spaces are worth more than this.

National and international reasons this must be rejected

  • The coal at the site is thermal coal, it is mainly used in power stations, but can be used in some industrial processes. Coal power stations are to be phased-out by 2024 and we have large stockpiles of this type of coal.
  • Coal, wherever it is consumed causes climate change. Power stations have to close by 2024 because of the emissions from burning coal. The single largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the UK is Tata Steel’s Port Talbot Steel works, the second is British Steel’s Scunthorpe steel works. If Banks sold the coal to industry, it would still be contributing to climate change which affects those who least caused it the most.
  • We have alternatives to this coal already in use. We can power electricity generation without coal, there are alternatives ways to make steel including by recycling, that use other fuels. Cement can be made without coal, alternatives have been around long enough to be adopted.
  • The coal used in steel works as a reducing agent is coking coal. This site contains thermal coal which Banks said was needed for power station in the 2016 scoping report.
  • Extracting more coal means that more coal will be consumed. If coal is extracted here, there is no comparable amount being left in the ground elsewhere. The emissions from the consumption and transport of coal from this site would worsen climate change. See Professor Paul Ekins from University College London’s video regarding this.
  • Transporting coal to the final consumer represents a small proportion of the emissions resulting from burning it, but Banks focusses on the emissions from transport. The sustainable solution is to stop burning coal, not to get it from a nearer source. Much more significant quantities of carbon are released from burning the coal than its transport with smaller amounts from the operation of the mine and the methane released.
  • A fixed haulage route is not being proposed as Banks Group want to be able to take the coal to a number of sites meaning the coal could be transported significant distances by lorry. If it is transported by train Banks suggests it would go to Butterwell Disposal Point, subjecting the nearby residents to more years of coal related disruption, which they had to suffer when that site was an active opencast mine.
  • Newcastle and Northumberland Councils have declared a climate emergency. As such climate change must be considered in every decision and action taken to reduce emissions. A new coal mine is the exact opposite of that.
  • National Planning Policy Framework paragraph says 211. “Planning permission should not be granted for the extraction of coal unless:
    a) the proposal is environmentally acceptable, or can be made so by planning conditions or obligations; or
    b) if it is not environmentally acceptable, then it provides national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh its likely impacts (taking all relevant matters into account, including any residual environmental impacts).
  • Clearly this application does not meet this test and so should be rejected.

DRURIDGE BAY OPENCAST COAL MINE REJECTED

Late on the 8th September 2020, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said that Banks Group will not be allowed to extract coal from Highthorn, close to Druridge Bay, Northumberland. Save Druridge, the local community group, are delighted.

Local resident Lynne Tate said, “Save Druridge have been fighting against Banks Group trying to open a coal opencast at Druridge Bay for the last seven years. We are extremely pleased therefore that once again a Secretary of State, namely Robert Jenrick, has rejected this application. Druridge Bay is a beautiful area consisting of a seven mile beach and dunes, many wildlife reserves, a coastal footpath, agricultural fields and woods running up to meet the A1068. The thought of this area being once again torn up, for a destructive opencast site over a period of seven years was unimaginable.”

On behalf of the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local government the official letter said, “the proposed development is not likely to provide national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh its likely impacts (taking all relevant matters into account, including any residual environmental impacts). It therefore fails the test required by paragraph 211(b) of the [National Planning Policy] Framework. The presumption against the granting of permission for the extraction of coal therefore applies in this case.”

Banks Group wanted to extract 2.765 million tonnes of coal by opencast methods. The original application was submitted in October 2015 for coal for combustion at power stations. The application was rejected by Sajid Javid in October 2018. The UK government is now planning on phasing-out coal by 2024, earlier than the original date of 2025.

Anne Harris from the Coal Action Network says, “This is a really significant decision. The UK government has finally acted on its own words regarding emissions and stopped a new opencast coal mine. There is no justification for continuing to exploit the world's resources when climate change is increasingly being felt, particularly by those in the global south who least contributed to the atmospheric changes.”

She goes on to say, “It was really important for global action on climate change that the decision went this way at Highthorn. We need to stop extracting coal globally and stop burning it anywhere. The government's decision to stop the mine was the only one that serves the needs of the local, national and international populations and ecosystems.”

June Davison, who lives adjacent to Banks' opencast site in the Pont Valley Durham which stopped removing coal last month says, “I've watched as the Pont Valley has been ripped apart and now the government finally say they will not support the extraction and burning of coal at Druridge Bay. The joy I can take in this decision is that this opencast coal site in the Pont Valley will be the last opencast.”

Jos Forester-Melville who is campaigning against a further Banks Groups opencast mine application at Dewley Hill near Throckley, Newcastle-upon-Tyne said, “We’re delighted to hear the outcome of this very positive result for our friends at Druridge Bay. In essence, it’s the only decision that could be made which will preserve the beautiful landscape but more importantly, the environment and people’s health. We very much hope this is reflective of the decision which should be made about open cast proposals at Dewley Hill and indeed at all sites across the North East. Coal is very much our past and it’s great to see that the decision has been upheld that it holds no part in our future.”

Anne Harris went on to say, “The Secretary of State did not believe Banks Group's claim that industrial coal demand will remain at current levels. We've seen huge falls in demand for coal for power stations. Now it's time to invest in long-term jobs in environmentally appropriate renewable energy and decarbonising heavy industry, there is no future for coal. There is no crisis needing coal supply, the real crisis, in addition to the current pandemic, is the climate emergency."

Coal mining in the Pont Valley to end August 2020

Coal mining in the Pont Valley to end August 2020

Campaign to Protect Pont Valley and other local people are delighted that Banks plans to further exploit the Pont Valley were dashed.

On the 1st July Durham County Council planning committee voted to reject Banks Group's controversial proposal for 'West Bradley' an extension to the current 'Bradley' opencast coal site between Dipton and Leadgate which would have caused another 90,000 tonnes of coal to be extracted over a further 1 year period. Had it been approved it would have added further disruption to people living in the area and worsening the local and international environment.

The written particulars of the decision said, "The proposed development would not be environmentally acceptable with respect to landscape and visual impacts and residential amenity impacts, and could not be made so by planning conditions or obligations contrary to saved County Durham Minerals Local Plan Policies M7a, M23, M24, M36 and M37, Paragraph 211a) of the National Planning Policy Framework and Emerging County Durham Plan Policy 54."

Although the planning officer for the council considered the County Durham Minerals Local Plan(2008) out of date, she chose to ignore that several of the restrictions it contained which went against this application are also expected to be included in the forth coming County Durham Plan.

Councillor Mark Wilkes who proposed the motion to refuse the opencast explained, said “Is it in the national interest to pump out more CO2 and other pollutants into atmosphere and stymie the development of alternative technologies? The government have committed to a Clean Steel Fund. We have to protect the local community and the nation from the adverse environmental impacts.”

Of the local impacts, a key contentious issue was that the site would be 33m from the nearest homes, where 250 metres had been the acceptable standard in the past, where opencast coal mining includes blasting rock with explosives and releasing dust particles into the surrounding area. Of this point Councillor Wilkes added: “This is where people live and sit in their gardens and want to breathe clean air. This is 2020 not 1820.”

The green area to the top of the image has been saved

Previous opencast coal mine applications have covered the contested area, and always been rejected. The area consisted of two fields which sustained wildlife as they had been left in a fairly natural condition, and a strip of trees at the top of a woodland in an area of High Landscape Value.

Speaking at the hearing, Alan Holmes of Campaign to Protect Pont Valley argued that approval was inconsistent with Durham's future plans including climate mitigation plans: “The County Durham Plan asserts climate change issues should be considered in every aspect of strategy and decision making. The Officer’s Report recommends no weight is afforded to the emergent County Plan, even though it will form the basis of decision making well into the future.”

Michael Litchfield of Derwent Valley Protection Society also spoke against the mine at the hearing saying “There is no national need for the open cast coal that could possibly outweigh the environmental and social cost of this opportunistic scheme.”

Banks Group had submitted two planning applications, the first to extend the area of coal extraction and the second to change the conditions of the current permit. Both were rejected. As such the opencast has to stop extracting coal in August 2020 and back fill the site, remove the bunds, demolish the facilities and landscape the area by August 2021.

Anne Harris from Coal Action Network said that “We must leave the coal in the ground, here and at the other sites Banks Group wishes to destroy. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick should take note and decisively reject Druridge Bay, a 3 million tonne coal mine in Northumberland which is still awaiting his decision.

“In contrast to the dodgy developer lobbying we have seen in the news in recent weeks, the community groups and individuals who have petitioned, door-knocked, written letters, have managed to convince planners that a coal mine is not in anyone's interest. We applaud the councillors who listened to the community and took the only right course of action in a climate emergency. The impact of this decision will be felt nationally as more mines are set to go before planning committees.”

Banks Group's proposal for another opencast coal site, Dewley Hill near Newcastle, is awaiting a planning hearing date, and has also been countered by a strong community campaign, Defend Dewley Hill.