LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Banks Mining said it expects an end this month to its near four-year wait to see whether it can develop a coal mine in northeastern England, after it received a letter from the government department responsible outlining its time frame.
Northumberland County Council agreed in 2016 that the developer, a division of The Banks Group, could extract 3 million tonnes of coal by cutting an open cast, or surface, mine near Druridge Bay, Highthorn.
But the local government minister at the time, Sajid Javid, rejected the application following a public inquiry, saying the proposal could hamper the country’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb climate change.
Banks Mining won a legal challenge against the decision which meant it was send back to the government for further consideration.
“A letter sent to Banks Mining on behalf of Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, secretary of state for Housing, Communities & Local Government, has stated that the government hopes to announce its decision no later than April 7,” Banks Mining said in a statement on Wednesday.
Environmentalists had criticised the plans, saying the mine would destroy an area of natural beauty and that extracting more coal is at odds with international pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris climate pact.
Supporters of the project have said it could bring much-needed jobs to the region, and help to reduce Britain’s reliance on coal imports.
Britain’s coal demand was around 8 million tonnes in 2019, provisional government data showed, while indigenous production was around 2.2 million tonnes.
Banks said the project would create at least 100 full-time jobs and inject 87 million pounds ($107.5 million) into the local economy.
Safeguarding these jobs was now more important than ever given the huge impact on the country’s economy of the coronavirus, Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group said.
“Given... the North East is already facing unprecedented levels of business closures and employee layoffs, it would give a real boost to the region’s economy for the government to approve this application,” he said.
Britain plans to close all coal-fired power stations by end 2024, as part of efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and meet its climate target of producing net zero emissions by 2050.
Although coal use has been diminishing in Europe, Steve Hulton, Rystad Energy’s head of global coal research, said in a note last month it could be considered a cheap and reliable source of energy to rebuild economies after the pandemic.
($1 = 0.8092 pounds)
Reporting By Susanna Twidale; Editing by Jan Harvey
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