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."
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.