Draft Position Statement on Mining Operations

How we deal with planning applications for mining operations

The Northumberland and Newcastle Society (N&N) has a duty to comment on all relevant planning applications relating to mining operations (whether new or extensions to existing operations).

Our comments should be based on an agreed consensus position statement, notwithstanding there may be a need for additional site specific comments in each case. In furtherance of this there is a definite need to have an informed debate within the N&N to achieve the consensus position.

As a matter of general principle the N&N should oppose new planning applications for mining operations (or extensions of existing operations) unless there is a compelling case to do otherwise.

It is difficult to envisage circumstances where we would actively support mining operations’ planning applications but we may adopt a neutral position if there is undeniable evidence justifying operations at a particular site.

The impact of mining operations

The general principle would not be based solely on the grounds of climate change risk, whilst this issue is compelling in its own right, but also on other significant factors such as the impact of mining operations on:

  • Local communities;
  • Environmental assets, eg natural habitats;
  • Heritage assets;
  • The local ecology;
  • Potential interference with watercourses and floodplains.

It appears the quantities of coal being sought for extraction in most proposed opencast schemes will be exhausted in only a few years. Although there is an argument this makes them less unattractive in the context of the proposed sites being landscaped at the end of mining operations, this perpetuates the mining industry continually looking for new opencast sites to develop.

The fundamental issue is coal is now internationally recognised as a fuel of last resort for very good reason and the N&N should be doing whatever it can to discourage its use as a primary source of energy.

The effects of mining operations

It is also true that coal is often not the sole objective for mining operations eg Dewley Hill, where 400,000 tonnes of fireclay is sought for extraction to manufacture construction materials (ie bricks for new housing etc).

There is already a major debate locally on the number of new housing developments being built, based on achieving notional government targets despite the North East requiring only a fraction of the new homes allocated.

Taking this a stage further, fireclay mining not only actively encourages further ‘out of town’ developments but adds substantially to the high levels of harmful emissions attributed to the construction industry. This cycle of development is a primary cause of degradation of towns and cities across the country, creating yet another incentive for developers to demolish existing structurally sound buildings and construct bland replacements using unsustainable materials.

There is a specific dilemma for us in the North East given the importance of coal in the Region’s history and development however; some of our most influential industrialists long ago recognised the need to move from coal onto much cleaner and sustainable energy sources eg Lord Armstrong and his development of hydro-power.

Our position

In our view this issue is at the heart of what the N&N stands for in ‘protecting and enhancing the landscape, culture and built environment of Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside for future heritage’.

We believe the N&N should accept a very limited need for opencast mining only when absolutely no reasonable alternative exists. This acceptance must only be the case where we are satisfied the promoters of mining schemes commit to the most stringent legally binding mitigation measures that effectively deal with the factors referred to above.

Mining Operations
Dewley Hill, west of Newcastle upon Tyne
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