Communities Secretary James Brokenshire Refuses to Revoke Planning Permission for Controversial Pont Valley Opencast Coal Mine

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James Brokenshire

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire has confirmed he will not revoke the planning permission for a controversial coal mine in County Durham.

Brokenshire revealed his decision in a letter to Green party MP Caroline Lucas. In the letter he states that:

… although there is a reserve power to revoke planning permission, it has been used very rarely and it is the department’s policy that such an intervention can only be justified in exceptional circumstances. The power will only be used if the original decision is judged to have been ‘grossly wrong’ …”.

He goes on to say that, “In light of the policy on revocation as explained above, I have concluded that it would not be appropriate to exercise the powers”.

The Pont Valley site has been subject to controversy since Banks Group announced plans to use a decades old planning permission to commence work on a new opencast old coal mine. A DeSmog UK investigation previously highlighted concerns that multiple conditions had not been met before Banks Group started work.

Banks Group had to commence work by 3 June 2018 otherwise the company would have needed to re-apply for permission. In March 2018, the same company were denied planning permission by former Communities Secretary Sajid Javid for an opencast mine at a Northumberland beauty spot near Druridge Bay.

Banks Group operates a number of coal mines in the North East of England, including one on hereditary peer Matt Ridley’s Blagdon Estate. Ridley is an advisor to the UK’s premier climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

Brokenshire took over as Communities Secretary when Javid was promoted to Home Secretary in April 2018.

Yesterday, environmental NGOs wrote to ministers to urge them to reform planning policy to block the development of new opencast coal mines.

Reacting to the news, Lucas tweeted that “if climate change isn’t an ‘exceptional circumstance’, what is?”

June Davison, a local resident who is part of the Protect Pont Valley campaign group told DeSmog UK:

I am hugely disappointed, not only with the decision but the time it’s taken to reach the decision and the lack of information about what exactly was being deliberated on for so long.”

Anne Harris, a campaigner for Coal Action Network said in a statement:

The UK want to be seen as a world leader in moving away from filthy coal power stations yet the government is allowing a new opencast to be started based on a decision made prior to the coal phase-out process starting. Banks Group are expansionistic in its intentions to opencast not only in the Pont Valley but also at Highthorn on Druridge Bay Northumberland and at Dewley Hill on the outskirts of Newcastle.” 

“The UK government needs to ensure that Banks Group is stopped from destroying our countryside an adding to catastrophic climate change.”

Gavin Styles, managing director at Banks Mining, said in a statement:

“We welcome the Secretary of State's sensible decision, and will continue to progress work at our Bradley site in the safest, most efficient and most environmentally responsible way possible in full accordance with the planning permission granted for the project.”

Updated 13/07/2018: A quote from Anne Harris was added. Updated 17/07/2018: A quote from Gavin Styles was added.

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