DRURIDGE BAY, ENGLAND, Nov 27 (Reuters): In northeastern England, a battle is raging between grass roots campaigners and a company intent on digging a new open cast mine as world coal prices soar.
A year after Britain closed its last deep coal mine and pledged to phase out coal-fired power generation, the economics of mining have been transformed.
Coal prices have risen by well over 100 per cent this year to $100 a tonne. Some mining stocks have risen even more, spurred by US President-elect Donald Trump's pledges to revive coal and pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Some wonder how long the coal price surge will last, but in Northumberland, the Banks Group is pressing ahead with plans for a new mine despite opposition from local environmentalists.
Northumberland County Council agreed that Banks could extract 3 million tonnes of coal by cutting an open cast mine near Druridge Bay, a scenic windswept arc of white sand and grassy dunes on the North Sea coast.
The government has "called in" the application, meaning there will be a public enquiry next year.
Jeannie Kielty, who works on community relations for Banks, says open cast is part of the social fabric of the northeast, an area with a long history of coal mining.
"The benefits that come from these sites can't be over-stated," she says. "We are frustrated with the call-in because it delays us, but we still believe we can work the site."
On the other side of the argument is the Save Druridge Bay campaign, which meets in the Drift Cafe, a haven for dog-walkers and bird-watchers not far from Highthorn, the site of the proposed mine.
There is a hard core of eight campaigners, led by the cafe owner Duncan Lawrence. It also has high-profile support from television personality and comedian Bill Oddie, a keen bird watcher who appreciates the pink-footed geese that winter among the dunes.
"Suddenly someone wants to turn the clock back in some really perverse way," Oddie said at a campaigning beach party in May. "It's sacrilege."
Banks has overcome opposition in the past, appealing successfully against a ban on developing another site in the area at Shotton.
Situated on the Blagdon Estate owned by Matt Ridley, a peer and Conservative politician who has said climate change has done more good than harm, Shotton has been mined by Banks since 2008.