A controversial planning application to build what would be the UK’s biggest coal mine close to a tranquil stretch of coastline is to be decided within days.
Government lawyers have written to Banks Mining to say a recommendation has been made for the minister about a three million tonne open-cast mine beside Druridge Bay in Northumberland, and an announcement will be made by April 7.
Two years ago, Sajid Javid, the then communities secretary, turned down Banks’ application for its Highthorn site, but the company has since won a series of challenges to have the plans reconsidered.
County councillors had originally approved the scheme despite protests from locals and environmentalists who argued that the mine would have huge implications for tourism and wildlife, including otters, dolphins and pink-footed geese.
While it waits to hear the outcome, Banks Mining is arguing that the country needs the coal, saying that UK imports have reached 86% of demand.
The impact of the coronavirus outbreak is putting a strain on international supply chains, the firm added.
Spokesman Gavin Styles said: “The dithering over UK coal planning decisions has been a disaster on every level.
“In theory it has been to reduce greenhouse gases.
“But dragging millions of tonnes of coal from the other side of the world has instead dramatically increased global emissions by the equivalent of 186 jumbo jets permanently circling the Earth.”
Mr Styles also said the site will create local jobs, meaning the UK is supporting employment here, rather than in Russian or US coal mines.
Lynne Tate, a co-ordinator with campaign group Save Druridge, suggest that the current Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, who has been presenting the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis at news conferences, will have been too busy to deal with the Highthorn decision.
“I cannot see them dealing with the application by April 7,” she said.
A Government spokesman said: “As the letter makes clear, the Communities Secretary will announce the outcome of his consideration in due course.
“It would not be appropriate to comment further as the application is subject to the Communities Secretary’s determination in a quasi-judicial capacity.
“There is no disruption to fuel supplies as a result of Covid-19.”