Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Druridge Open cast gets approval. No surprise, but just the beginning

Northumberland County Council have voted to approve the Druridge Bay open cast mine application, 13 to 0 in favour. The decision and size of the vote seemed to cause surprise but should not do. Every wise Councillor knows you do not take decisions at meetings. That is far too clumsy and risky. Instead they will have consulted widely beforehand and I expect every councillor who went into that meeting had a good idea how they and their colleagues were going to vote. A unanimous vote is also important to avoid creating more friction and misunderstandings. Ultimately the council went for the jobs argument which, given the deprivation in much of south east Northumberland is understandable, at least for the mine jobs which could be counted in advance. Hard to measure any losses that the mine might cause if other businesses suffer. Councillors were also at pains to raise diverse points to show their awareness of the complex issues although the criticism of the overwhelming numbers of objectors as coming from as far away as Madagascar and Banglasdesh sounded like nervous over reaction.

Banks and the Council will be waiting to see if the government calls in the application, although whether there will be a functioning government may be a more pressing problem.

The outcome might seem like a straight forward win for Banks and the application. However the sheer numbers of objections from very local people still leaves a very divided community. A classic conservation problem. The avocets and egrets, harriers and pink foot are very good at looking after themselves given the chance. Conservation is more about people who want to earn a living, go for a walk, support a family, bird watch, revel in the peace and quiet, fear disturbance, worry for house prices. Banks will also have a lot to live up to and, without owning the land, are taking a risk themselves. What if the land owner does not want the mitigation plans proposed for seven years time? After all times change and the farming economy is likely to have changed markedly post Brexit. What if Banks want to extend the mine area along the lines of the earliest plans? The mine if only due to last seven years. What will happen to those 50+ jobs in seven years, are they a trump card that be played over and over again. The Council have taken a risk too. They will want the proposal to work well.  The Druridge open cast saga is far from over.

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