Are you for or against? Take a look at both sides of the argument regarding the the contentious issue of opencast coal mining in the region

THOUSANDS of letters have been submitted in opposition to plans to extend a controversial opencast coalmine. The original application was given the go-ahead after a protracted legal battle, which ended with police forcibly removing climate change protestors from the site at Dipton, near Consett. Work to remove 500,000 tonnes of coal got underway in June 2018, and now Banks Mining is hoping to extend the Bradley site towards Leadgate.

The firm has said all operational and restoration work will be completed to the same August 2021 deadline. Plans to extract a further 90,000 tonnes more coal for supply to UK industrial customers and 20,000 tonnes of fireclay for use by regional brickmakers will be debated by councillors before a decision is made. Formal consultation has officially closed, but Durham County Council has said all correspondence submitted ahead of the planning meeting will be considered.

Here, representatives from both side of the argument make their case. FOR Gavin Styles, managing director at Banks Mining, makes the economic and environmental case for using coal from the UK, instead of importing it from abroad.

Climate change is a serious global issue and we must all play our part and take responsibility by making a sensible transition to a low carbon future. It won’t be addressed by the carbon hypocrisy of off-shoring our emissions, while stripping good Northern jobs. For our newly elected Prime Minister this creates a problem.

He knows that without a big improvement in the Northern economy, the voters who put him in office will turf him out. If they have good jobs, he will keep his. The carbon extremists blockading the streets of London are effectively demanding the end of Northern industries, including the elimination of coal.

So, what is the Prime Minister to do? The good news for Boris is that all he actually needs to do is look at the facts. The first question is whether the UK can do without coal?

The answer is a clear no if Boris wants to deliver on his promises of 40 new hospitals, one million new homes, improvements to the rail and road networks, like dualling of the A1, and installing more zero-carbon energy generation. They all need steel and cement, which are made using coal. Someday in the 2030s, they might not need coal, but for now they do.

For that matter, so do our heritage railways, try steam trains without coal. So, the next question for the Prime Minister is, where should that coal come from? Increasingly, it’s from abroad, 79 per cent at the latest count.

That is not because of cost, but because Government policy has been strangling domestic production. Proof of that? Look no further than the planning application for our proposed surface mine at Highthorn in Northumberland.

The Government first ignored a cross-party council decision in favour of the mine. Then it ignored its own planning inspector’s recommendation for approval, who found the mine was in the national interest. And now it has ignored the High Court ruling in favour of the project.

The miners feel let down. Our Prime Minister would be horrified to learn that Putin’s Russia now dominates coal imports. Nearly half of the UK’s coal comes from Russia, and that will increase in May this year when England’s largest surface mine at Shotton ceases coaling.

Guess what the climate change consequences are of dragging coal halfway round the world from Siberia? The CO2 emitted annually transporting Russian coal to the UK is the equivalent of 130 jumbo jets circling the Earth continuously for a year. Every tonne of Russian coal brought to the UK emits five to six times more CO2 than transporting coal from the North-East to our UK customers.

That is a scandal, especially when the Prime Minister is well aware how Russia can abuse its power as an energy producer. Coal imports have even worse climate consequences from their production. CO2 emissions from overseas mines are significantly higher than those from coal produced in the UK, with the production emissions from Australian mines double that of a UK surface mine.

Another question is what’s the value of coal for the Northern economy? Well, our mines don’t just produce the vital ingredient for steel and cement. As we dig out the coal, we also uncover rich seams of fireclay for the construction sector.

Then there are the 250 direct jobs along with many more in our supply chains, with around GBP32m spent each year in the region from our sites. Workers across the north supplying machinery, parts, fuels and professional services know the importance of these mines to their order books. Let’s also not forget the ecological and wildlife benefits that these mines bring.

Wildlife habitats are created, footpaths and bridleways are established, farmland is landscaped in better condition than before works began. At our proposed Dewley Hill site in Newcastle, the plan is to plant over 33,000 trees, providing long-term carbon capture that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Through our operations, we have already planted more than 1.2 million trees.

How many privately-owned businesses can say that? Our mines also provide local communities with improved local amenities, sporting and recreational facilities, while imported coal provides no support to our northern communities. Having a UK coal sector doesn’t just make economic sense, it makes social, ecological, environmental and climate sense.

I know the Prime Minister cares about northern jobs and the global climate, but he needs to take back control from the climate extremists parroting “keep it in the ground” and look at the facts, using science not slogans. AGAINST Isobel Tarr, from Coal Action Network, argues the proposals will damage the environment, harm wildlife and be detrimental for the local community.

The proposal to mine West Bradley has been rightly thrown out three times, and this time has moved thousands of people to write unique objections citing health concerns, wildlife impacts and the climate emergency. Opencast mining releases PM25 dust which The British Lung Foundation links to cancer, lung and heart conditions. Many miners of the Eden coal mine, now the Bradley site, died of respiratory diseases from dust which is now widely dispersed for children to breathe; locals see it on their cars and a dust analysis showed they are likely to be breathing in coal.

In previous applications, forest was accepted as an adequate barrier to prevent dust blowing to Dipton and the primary school, but these trees have all since been cleared. No governmental body is monitoring the health impacts of living in the vicinity of Bradley. Noise and dust complaints have been filed, relating to blasting using explosives and constant machine noise.

All have been ignored or denied by Banks. West Bradley will bring all this closer to homes; currently it is being felt 500 metres away; imagine what that’s like at 150 metres. Banks say the expansion will be completed in the same timeframe with the same workforce, so they can’t claim it creates jobs.

But the expansion would lengthen the period of coaling within that timeframe, prolonging the distress of local residents. Criminal prosecution of Banks Group is underway for alleged failure to provide for protected species on the Bradley site. An extension would put the species already displaced from the once ecologically vibrant site under more stress; ground-nesting birds, badgers, bats, deer, and birds of prey.

Since Bradley started local people report an increase in wildlife frequenting their gardens looking for food. Banks claim to be “enhancing nature”, but it is quite the opposite; it is localised extinction. The planning Inspector who ruled against Bradley in 2012 said: “Virtually everything of value [in the Bradley planning application] could be achieved without the need to first win coal.

The benefits outlined by the company could be delivered by local community enterprise and good land management.” The supposed benefits, for example, tree and hedge planting,) do not necessitate the removal of the coal and the disruption that this would cause. The money proposed to pay to the community is a bribe to accept what cannot be made acceptable.

Coal has a proud history in County Durham, but with ten years to stop irreversible climate breakdown, local campaigners say “Coal is our Heritage, not our Future” Coal is the world’s most polluting fossil fuel per unit of energy used, and coal mines can release just as much greenhouse gas from under the ground as the coal does when burned. Methane emissions from coal mines last year contributed more to the climate emergency than all global aviation and shipping combined.

We don’t know how much methane West Bradley will release because Banks have done no assessment. Banks say it is better to burn their coal than coal from abroad; but neither are needed. There is more than double the amount of coal already dug up in stockpiles than power-stations are expected to need, ever.

Bradley is adding to this, selling coal to West Burton power station ; the probable destination for up to 90,000 tonnes from West Bradley. Amid a climate emergency there is no excuse for burning more fossil fuels than needed when renewables are helping us to phase them out. Banks will say that their coal is needed for steel-making, but only 14% of Bradley coal was assessed as suitable.

Even so, methods for coal-free steel are being explored by the UK government and private companies . Banks Mining is driven by profit – it is not interested in these alternatives. Instead it is getting in the way of the urgent case for carbon neutral industry, by claiming coal is needed for steel, only to sell coal to whoever will buy it.

The thousands of objections cite even more reasons for refusal; light pollution, truck movements, poor restorations, harassment of locals by Banks’ security firm and more. The Environment Agency raised the alarm about pollution of nearby watercourses. This consultation paints a damning picture of Banks Group, its broken relationship with the community, and the scale of concern around climate emergency and local environment.

County Durham and future generations deserve better than what Banks Group has to offer.

You may also like...