Could King Coal transform Sunderland fortunes once again?

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SUNDERLAND’S port will boom with coal exports if proposals to tap in to fossil fuels off the coast once more go ahead, a committee has heard.

Recent years have seen growing calls for a return to coal mining on Wearside, with supporters hailing it as a way of meeting the UK’s energy demands and creating jobs in the region.

Now a group of councillors, charged with keeping tabs on the city’s economic development, had heard how a return of King Coal could reinvigorate the city’s port after a tour of the facility with its boss, Matthew Hunt.

Independent councillor Sheila Ellis, of the prosperity and economic development scrutiny committee, said there had been much talk of Sunderland becoming a support hub for the offshore wind farm industry, but exporting coal would also prove lucrative.

“I certainly think offshore wind farms are a possible way forward, but I did suggest to Mr Hunt the possibility of getting the coal underneath the sea,” she said.

The Houghton councillor said several studies had looked at developing coal mining under the North Sea, and Port of Sunderland would provide an obvious infrastructure to shipping the fossil fuel elsewhere.

A number of prominent figures, including former Sunderland North MP Bill Etherington and ex-Technology Minister Tony Benn, have said untapped coal reserves in Sunderland and Durham were an obvious option to meet Britain’s energy needs.

The spiralling cost of gas, combined with cheaper ways to mine coal and greener ways of using it to generate electricity, has made the fossil fuel a more attractive option.

Davy Hopper, the National Union of Mineworkers North East regional organiser, believes that opening a mine between the former Wearmouth and Westoe sites, and another in Northumberland, could create 1,000 jobs.

“There must be 500million tonnes of coal there, extensive reserves, which, if mined, could make a significant impact on the energy crisis,” he told reporters earlier this month.

Conservative councillor George Howe said Sunderland’s port had once been great, but the loss of industries such as coal mining had gradually eroded its purpose.

He also warned against over-reliance or complacency when it came to potential for business from a giant wind farm licensed for Dogger Bank.

“We’re 220miles from Dogger Bank and we’re not the nearest – other ports are closer than us,” he said.

Coun Howe also voiced frustrations at the delay in regenerating Port of Sunderland.

Councillors praised the work of Mr Hunt, who they said had driven the facility forward since taking over as director.

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