Environmentalists are celebrating a decision by central government on Thursday to intervene in plans for an open cast coal mine near Druridge Bay which could see the proposal blocked on climate change grounds.
In what is being reported as a first for UK planning policy, climate change was at the centre of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s decision to ‘call in’ the plans for review.
In a letter sent on behalf of Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to Northumberland Council, the Department has requested information on the “extent to which the proposed development is consistent with government policies for meeting the challenge of climate change”.
It is now up to the Department to give the final say on the result of the local public inquiry set to be launched on the Druridge Bay coal mine.
Responding to the news, Labour shadow climate and energy secretary, Barry Gardiner, said: “On those rare occasions when the government clearly does the right thing, the only honourable response is to say well done. When I wrote to the Secretary of State asking him to call in this opencast coal application back in June I did not expect to get such a positive response. I am delighted that he agrees that the proposal exposed a worrying incoherence at the heart the government’s energy and planning policies.”
Green groups had previously slammed the decision by Northumberland County Council in July to approve controversial proposals for a site near the Northumberland coast.
They said the plans to extract three million tonnes of coal, sandstone and fireclay would help “wreck our climate”.
As Gardiner explained: “It is important that the proper role of local planning authorities is not undermined, but it was invidious to ask the council to take a decision without the proper guidance from government as to what weight to give to competing national objectives.
“The National decision to end unabated coal generation by 2025 and to meet our targets under the Paris Climate Agreement did not mesh with National Planning Policy guidance on the environment which did not allow the council to consider these wider climate objectives.”
Responding to the news Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, said it’s “brilliant news” that the “disastrous project” had been stalled.
In a statement she said: “Going ahead with this project would fly in the face of the climate science, and be disastrous for the local environment. Coal is a dirty, polluting energy source and has no role to play in a modern economy.”
“With over 10,000 objections having been lodged against the mine, I have no doubt that local people will be relieved by the Secretary of State’s decision to call this in. It’s now time for the decision to go ahead with this project to be overturned for good.”
Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole told Blue and Green Tomorrow: “Hopefully this means that Ministers have realised that digging up yet more coal is completely contradictory with the Paris climate deal, and that planning rules must be changed to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
However, the developers, Banks Group – which operate the open cast coal mines on climate science denier Matt Ridley’s land nearby – said the decision to call in the scheme was “frustrating”, claiming instead that it would bring “environmental enhancements” to the area.
“We agree wholeheartedly that Northumberland is a very special place, which is why the protection and enhancement of Druridge Bay and the surrounding communities has been placed at the heart of our proposals.”
The company added: “We firmly believe that the environmental, ecological, habitat, tourism and recreational enhancements that will form part of the Highthorn scheme through the Discover Druridge initiative will have a positive, transformative effect on the area.”
But as Gardiner put it: “I praise and congratulate the Minister for doing the right thing and would simply say that it is essential for ministers to ensure a smooth and prosperous transition for communities that have historic ties to the coal industry. They must deliver the job and investment opportunities of the new, clean, low-carbon industries that will power Britain’s future.”