THE Government is set to decide on a controversial new coal mine near a North-East coastal beauty spot next week, it has been revealed.

Banks Mining, which is behind the plans, said correspondence from Government lawyers reveals the announcement on the proposed mine at Highthorn, near Druridge Bay, in Northumberland, is expected by April 7. The mine would produce 3 million tonnes of coal and be the biggest in the UK.

The firm says this comes as official figures show that coal imports accounted for 86 per cent of UK demand last year - up from 46 per cent in 2016 - and at a time "the coronavirus crisis exposes the UK’s reliance on imports".

According to Banks, the data showed that last year the UK used 7.9 million tonnes of coal of which only 2.9 million was for power stations. Some 5m tonnes continued to be used in other industries with 2.9 million tonnes going to steel. The Government accepts that this industrial use will persist after power station use finishes.

Banks says the Government has been blocking new domestic mines and that this has led to 6.8 million tonnes being imported last year of which 37 per cent came from Russia and 27 per cent from the US.

The percentage of the UK’s coal demand being met by imports is set to grow even further when three of the UK’s largest surface mines run out of coal over the next year.

The company says with the corona crisis threatening import supply lines, steel and cement producers have been asking UK mines to produce more coal. This, it argues is adding to the argument for a rethink on the Government’s policy of relying on imports.

Gavin Styles of Banks Mining said: “The dithering over UK coal planning decisions has been a disaster on every level. In theory it has been to reduce greenhouse gases.

"But dragging millions of tonnes of coal from the other side of the world has instead dramatically increased global emissions by the equivalent of 186 jumbo jets permanently circling the earth.

“Forcing UK industry to rely on extremely long supply chains has also created strategic consequences – with the corona crisis threatening imports we are being asked to produce more coal which is vital to keep blast furnaces and kilns going.

Campaigner Isobel Tarr of the Coal Action Network said: “Banks claim that an increase in UK coal production will stop the UK importing more coal. But the drop in domestic production that was seen last year (also in the same government figures) didn’t make the UK import more coal as Banks said it would.

“In fact the UK imported a third less coal than the previous year, as power stations demanded a third less coal than the previous year."

She added: "The new figures prove that the solution to the climate crisis is not to dig up more of of the world’s most polluting fossil fuel but to close power stations and invest in alternatives. The solution to importing less coal and emitting fewer greenhouse gases is simple: stop burning coal and stopping digging it up.

Banks Group have compared the new 2019 figures to 2016 instead of 2018, which gives a misleading picture which is at odds with the analysis offered by the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as part of their report on the past years’ developments. In short, Banks Group is presenting a misreading of the data.

Ms Tarr added: "In no way is Druridge Bay a solution to a supposed crisis in supply for the industrial sector because of Covid-19.

"Banks’ claim that the industrial sector is crying out for their coal as a result of Covid-19 doesn’t match with what industry leaders are saying. According to the National Grid, demand from industrial users has shrunk as a result of COVID-19, as has overall demand for energy.

"Breendon cement has ceased almost all production, and the steel industry is on the brink of shutdown. Banks Group are shamelessly exploiting a crisis to try to further the erroneous economic and environmental argument for their coal, in a last ditch attempt to persuade the Secretary of State that digging up and burning 3m tonnes of coal is somehow necessary amid a climate emergency and global health crisis.

"The real crisis, in addition to the pandemic, is the climate emergency."