UPDATE (3.20pm): Nine arrests during protest at Northumberland surface mine

Protesters at the entrance of the Shotton surface mine.
Protesters at the entrance of the Shotton surface mine.

Nine people have been arrested, but today's anti-coal protest at a Northumberland surface mine is now over.

Protesters blockaded the front gates of the Shotton surface mine, to the west of Cramlington, preventing staff from getting into work and it was reported that four protesters climbed down into the mine and fastened themselves to a 500-tonne coal excavator.

A banner stating 'Keep it in the ground' was held up at the entrance and one protester, who was handcuffed to another with their arms in a drainage pipe, said she was protesting on behalf of Matt Ridley's Conscience. Viscount Ridley is the landowner at Shotton via his Blagdon estate and is a self-professed climate-change sceptic, who has written at length about the 'immense economic, environmental and moral benefits' of fossil fuels.

A Northumbria Police spokesman said: "Officers have been in attendance to engage with Shotton Mining staff, the local community and the protest group to minimise any disruption and try and keep those involved safe."

Earlier today, Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, said: “We can confirm that a number of individuals illegally gained access to our Shotton surface mine this morning and we are currently working with the relevant authorities to remove them from the site.

"Surface-mining sites are potentially very hazardous environments, with steep drops, uneven terrain and a substantial amount of industrial machinery located therein and it is extremely dangerous for anyone to enter such a site who is not accompanied by a professional site team.

"Individuals' actions such as blocking roads across the site and attaching themselves to equipment pose considerable danger to the health and well-being of both our own staff and the people involved and we're very grateful that no one has been injured as a result of these foolhardy and illegal attempts to disrupt operations at a legitimate place of work.

"As a family-owned North East business, we are proud that our regional mining operations contribute more than £35million to the North East economy every year through wages, investments and the local supply chain and that with around 200 of our employees working at our Shotton and Brenkley Lane sites, we are one of Northumberland’s largest private-sector employers.

"The fact remains that around 30 per cent of the electricity that we all used during 2014 to power our homes, businesses, schools and hospitals was produced through coal and more than 85 per cent of this coal came from overseas. Coal is and will remain a central part of the UK's energy mix for the foreseeable future and it makes far greater sense from an economic, environmental, employment and energy security point of view to mine our own indigenous coal reserves rather than relying on imports of coal and gas from potentially-unstable overseas markets.

"As well as being used in energy production, coal and coal products are also essential to the manufacturing of many everyday products, including carbon fibres, mobile phones and remote control units. It is a proven and flexible fuel that is easy to store and transport, remains the cheapest available form of energy generation and will become progressively more environmentally competitive in the future with advances in new clean coal technologies. We see that coal will play a reduced but important part of a secure and affordable transition to a low carbon economy.

"Surface mining also provides a unique opportunity to make improvements to land that might otherwise not be possible. Contaminated land can be cleared up, flooding can be alleviated and new landscape features and habitats can be created and our sites are always restored with the principle that what we create should be an improvement on what was there before to ensure that we leave a positive legacy of which our host communities can be proud."

The company has recently submitted a planning application for its proposed Highthorn opencast mine, between Widdrington and Druridge Bay. This scheme has faced a fair amount of opposition since it was first announced.

Robert Downer, chief executive at The Blagdon Estate, said: "The Blagdon Estate is a thriving rural centre for enterprise which provides a home for around 40 North East businesses and which also supports numerous local charity, school and community activities.

"The surface mines that are based partly on Blagdon Estate land support more than 200 jobs, as well as many other businesses in the local supply chain, and the recent loss of several thousand regional jobs through the closure of the SSI steelworks at Redcar demonstrates the continuing importance of this type of large-scale employment to the North East of England.

"These operations also allow significant funding to be allocated towards improving a wide range of local community and tourism facilities which otherwise simply would not be available from any other source.

"The speculative figures we have seen for the Estate's earnings from mining operations, which are comprised of a small wayleave for enabling access to the land and compensation for resulting lack of agricultural access, are substantially overestimated and very misleading.

"I know that Matt Ridley has always been clear and open about his mining interests, as well as on his views on climate and energy policy, and that he has also been a champion of utilising shale gas - coal's main rival - as a suitable future source of energy production. I also have no doubt that he will continue to voice and defend his opinion on a wide range of issues, as he is perfectly entitled to do."