Campaigners have been protesting today at the opening of a three-week public inquiry into whether to dig a massive open-cast coal mine at Highthorn, near the nature reserve and beauty spot of Druridge Bay.
The rally at inquiry venue Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club follows a giant-scale protest yesterday against mining firm Banks Group, which saw campaigners climb controversial “public sculpture” Northlandia near Cramlington to unfurl a giant End Coal Now banner.
The Northlandia site consists of a sculpted series of paths winding around a thin layer of grass laid over heaps of slag waste from Shotton Surface Mine, also constructed by Banks group. Many local people are angry at the “crass” sculpture, also known as Slag Alice, and point to it as evidence that Banks Group will not bother to take care of or restore the land it mines.
The company’s plans to mine Druridge Bay next have attracted widespread opposition, much of it centred around the Save Druridge campaign, who have funded legal opposition to the mine, and with some backing from Friends of the Earth, which is holding today’s rally.
The campaigners used a banner reading “end coal now” to suggest the views of the reclining woman depicted in the sculpture. They also constructed an image of a wind turbine in her clenched right hand. Rob Noyes, From Northumberlandia Speaks, said:
“Northumberlandia is sold as ‘a landscape for the community to enjoy’ and yet the Banks Group want to deprive the Druridge Bay community of the landscape they already enjoy. I’m sure that if the landscape could, it would speak out. And it would say ‘End Coal Now’.”
As well as the dangerous environmental impacts of a coal mine near Druridge Bay, campaigners and local residents are concerned about the threat to wildlife and the local tourism industry, which relies on Druridge Bay’s status as a natural beauty spot.
Although Banks Group claims the new mine could create 100 jobs, it is unclear what would happen to these after the mine’s five-year lifespan. Local people say that at least this many jobs will be lost as a decline in tourism as a result of the mine.
Bank’s Mining wants to extract 3 million tonnes of coal from Highthorn. In 2016 Northumberland County Council granted them planning permission, but Save Druridge campaigners managed to get the government to Call In the application, meaning that the Secretary of State would ultimately decide if the mine goes ahead.
Local people, Friends of the Earth and Coal Action Network are all preparing to speak at the public inquiry to decide the fate of the area.
If the application is refused campaigners say it will significantly reduce the chances for similar applications currently being pushed. There are three other applications for new opencast mines going through the planning system. These are Hilltop, Clay Cross, Derbyshire, which is also being decided by the planning inspectorate; Nant Llesg in Caerphilly south Wales which is at appeal and Dewley Hill on the Newcastle boundary, another Banks Mining application.
South African communities affected by poisonous opencast mining techniques sent solidarity ahead of today’s vigil and rally. The Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation said in an open letter:
We know what it is like to live under the shadow of a coal mining application, because we have firsthand experience of this. We stand in solidarity with members of the local UK community in their opposition to this proposed mine.
Our community/organization also has firsthand experience of the blasting, dust, water theft and other impacts of an open cast coal mining operation 10kms (6.2 miles away). We also are severely challenged by climate change as a result of South Africa’s reliance on fossil fuels, the worst being a severe seven year drought that resulted in many deaths of our livestock and even wildlife in the neighbouring Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park.
… 82% of all known coal reserves need to stay in the ground to stay within a 2°C global temperature rise. And almost 100% must remain buried to avoid exceeding the aspirational 1.5°C goal set by the world’s governments in the Paris Climate Accord.
Every coal mine contributes unacceptably to warming the Earth. This affects us all, wherever we live.