A COUNTY Durham miner has gained approval for a £120m 100-job development.

Banks Mining has received backing to operate a surface mine at Highthorn, in Northumberland.

Bosses say the site, which will create at least new 50 jobs and support 50 existing posts from a sister Northumberland site, will be used to extract coal, sandstone and fireclay over a five-year period.

The plans were criticised by campaigners, including Friends of the Earth and the Save Druridge Bay group, who claimed the proposals would destroy the area.

However, planning officials at Northumberland County Council gave their backing, saying the employment benefits and Banks’ promise to restore the area after work swayed their decision.

Banks, headquartered in Meadowfield, near Durham City, received support from a number of organisations prior to the council’s ruling, including the North East England Chamber of Commerce and the North-East Confederation of British Industry.

Jeannie Kielty, Banks’ development relations co-ordinator, said the company is aware its plans are not universally popular, but pointed to the scheme’s £120m economic benefits and supply chain potential.

She also said it was committed to looking after the environment.

She added: “We're very pleased the council’s planning committee have been minded to support the development.

“We will invest around £120m in the North-East economy through Highthorn, and contracts worth a total of £48m will be put out to tender, with local suppliers used wherever possible.

“Around £3m will also be contributed to the public purse through business rates.

“We fully understand the responsibilities that will come with operating Highthorn, as well as the importance of living up to the commitments we have made to creating a tangible legacy for the area through its restoration.

“We will strive to work Highthorn to the very highest environmental and operational standards.”

Banks already runs surface mines at Brenkley Lane, near Newcastle, and Shotton, Northumberland, which employ more than 200 workers, and previously revealed its Highthorn plans were supported by the Coal Authority.

Speaking after the council’s verdict, Council leader, Grant Davey, said officials had to weigh up a number of issues.

He added: “This has been a long and difficult process, but I believe this decision is in the best interests of Northumberland and its residents.

“I’m reassured that Banks have restored previous sites, improving wildlife habitats and the soil quality for agriculture.”

Councillor Davey added the application has been minded for approval, meaning the decision will be passed to the Secretary of State for consideration.