Druridge Bay: why I believe we can win again
In March 2018, the government rejected planning permission for an opencast coal mine at Druridge Bay, Northumberland. The Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said climate change was the reason behind his decision.
I was up till 2 o’clock every morning working on the campaign.Duncan Lawrence
Owner of the neighbourhood Drift cafe, Duncan Lawrence was elated. For the past few years, he'd been doing everything to stop the mine – including devoting himself to the community campaign Save Druridge, which Friends of the Earth has been working alongside.
Smiling, he remembers exactly what he was doing when the news came through.
"William Bell is the landowner who is renting the land to Banks if they get permission [for the coal mine]. I had a meeting with his daughter at the cafe that morning. Just as I was showing her out, one of the staff was bringing a telephone saying ‘I’ve got BBC Radio Newcastle on the phone’ and my wife was showing me the Facebook page saying he’d [Javid] refused permission. It was quite a surreal moment."
And how did he feel at the time?
"Elated but I didn’t jump up and down because I had the woman there. I just turned to her and said quite calmly ‘they’ve refused permission’."
ITV came over with a bottle of champagne and some glasses as a prop and I refused to take part because it wasn’t that sort of celebration really.Duncan Lawrence
"Following that initial moment I was ringing people and telling them that we’d won. It was a great feeling of elation and relief that it was over – or so we thought."
Back to the beginning
Two months later, Banks Mining challenged Javid's ruling on a technicality – claiming he hadn't explained his decision properly. It won.
Now Javid's successor, James Brokenshire, must reconsider the Highthorn opencast decision.
"I felt the case was solid from Sajid Javid’s point of view. But there were errors in the wording as much as anything else.
"I was very disappointed."
The case against the coal mine is even stronger now
The government's decision was the right one for the right reason. Since then, the case for urgent action on climate change has only got stronger.
Scientists have warned that we urgently need to keep fossil fuels like coal in the ground – otherwise we face catastrophic threats to human life and nature.
If you look at the overall picture, then we’ve still got an extremely strong case, ourselves and Friends of the Earth, to win.Duncan Lawrence
"I think, to a small degree, Banks won the appeal on a technicality. Things have gone further in our favour I believe since Javid made his decision. James Brokenshire has further evidence since that time so I’m convinced that we’re going to win."
Don't confuse Duncan's confident tone as a sign of complacency. He's very aware that external events like the youth climate strikes, David Attenborough's documentaries and global climate talks are putting politicians under extreme pressure to reject polluting projects.
"That land has been earmarked for opencast for several decades now. If they [Banks Mining] had gone in earlier they would without doubt have got permission. Lots of things have gone in our favour: climate change-wise, the use of coal in the energy mix, the surge in tourism. I’d be absolutely astounded if Brokenshire gave permission for it."
What would it mean to win (again)?
"It’d just be such a relief I think, more than anything. And it would be just fantastic news for Druridge Bay, for tourism, for the local wildlife particularly, and the people who live in this region and visit it. This area is absolutely booming with visitors."
What is your message to people reading?
"It doesn’t matter how big a company or how strong a county council is – a small group of individuals can defeat them.
"I don’t just say ‘come on we can win this’, I believe we can win it and I have since the beginning."