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Jobs Yes – but not at any cost
Diana Jeuda, secretary of Whitby Labour Party Potash Group writes: I am a local Whitby resident but I am not a regular reader of this website.
Knowing I was going to write this article, I sat down and read the two potash threads. What impressed me was the passion.
But it also felt quite like a family argument! Really passionate debate with each other. Claims and counter claims. Very little agreement about what were the facts.
Lots of cries of people twisting facts and sometimes even making them up! Quite a lot of doubting people’s integrity. People for the mine, playthings of York Potash or Sirius Minerals or both.
Vanda Inman in cahoots with the administrator. Or was it the other way round? The administrator not impartial – and so on!
Nobody could doubt that everyone cared. But I really did wonder whether this passionate debate engaged people who were not part of this group.
I wondered even more whether the debate actually helped people make up their mind if they were puzzled. I felt quite punch drunk myself when I got to the end!
I thought how boring the work that the Whitby Labour Party has just done must seem by contrast! But I also thought that being boring and practical has its place when controversial developments are under consideration.
First a bit about the Whitby Labour Party – necessary I think in view of some of the comments that I have read about us! The Whitby Labour Party is made up of local people living in Whitby and in the surrounding villages.
We love this area passionately. We know it is economically poor, but we value its richness that cannot be measured in money terms.
As members of the Labour Party, we have shared beliefs. We care about people having jobs, security, and enough money to live on. We believe that work should be non-exploitative and safe, and that people should be paid the living wage.
We believe that trade unions and collective bargaining protect people at work, particularly when they work in dangerous environments. We loathe the scourge of unemployment.
We hate the fact that young people have to move from this area if they want anything more than the low paid, low skilled, insecure seasonal work that is the norm. We want more training and apprenticeships for the young.
We are saddened that recession has meant that skilled craftsmen are reduced to shelf filling in Sainsbury. Nothing the matter with shelf filling, but it is sad when that is all the work that is available for a skilled electrician.
It is this experience we have brought to the table when we considered what we thought about the mine.
We realised at the outset, that there was so much information and misinformation doing the rounds that we needed a work programme to establish the facts.
Members of the Labour Party visited Boulby mine to experience underground working. We talked to Boulby’s senior management to gather information.
We also talked to Boulby miners. We met the Chief Executive of York Potash. We read UN and other reports together with stock market intelligence.
We crawled over all the technical documents on York Potash’s website. We learned a great deal in the process.
The choice that faced us was whether the damage to the moors caused by the construction of the pipeline should outweigh the possibility of a significant number of local jobs.
We realised too that we did not have the technical expertise to make an informed judgment about some of York Potash’s assertions about the feasibility and safety of their proposals.
However we could make recommendations about what the experts employed by the two planning bodies should probe. We could also ensure the two planning bodies were aware of their responsibility to probe them.
If they do not, and things go wrong, then the responsibility would be on the planners just as much as on the company.
Our final task was to establish what safeguards might be needed, if planning permission were to be given.
Our 5000 word full report is available at www.labour4scarboroughandwhitby.net with these main conclusions.
Jobs are needed but the Moors are a priceless asset
The mine proposes to bring around 1100 jobs split between here and Teesside another area of high unemployment – around 850 to the Whitby, 250 to Teesside.
These jobs are likely to be well paid and range from professional and technical to unskilled. It is likely that more than 1000 people will be involved in the construction process.
This is a significant employment contribution to our area which is over-dependent on the service sector, where jobs are low paid, and where work is relatively unskilled, seasonal and often temporary, and where more than 1500 people locally are currently out of work and many more are working part time but would like more hours or a full time job – or cannot register for work at all because of lack of affordable childcare.
We know that initially people for the high level technical jobs will not be recruited locally because local people do not have these skills. But these jobs give our young people something to aspire too.
However York Potash claim that they will recruit around 80% of the semiskilled and unskilled workforce from the local area – about 450 to 500 jobs – if they can find local people with either the skills or the capacity to acquire the skills.
We see no reason to disbelieve them. Why spend money on relocation costs if local labour is available?
If the mine goes ahead, there can be no question it will make a real dent in the completely unacceptable level of unemployment in this area and on Teesside. (We in the Labour Party care about unemployment wherever it is)
Against this, the National Park and its unique environment is a priceless asset, and for around six years there will be a significant but temporary scar on the landscape.
In pockets of woodland and hedgerows, the scar will take longer to heal. York Potash assures us that full recovery will eventually take place.
This must be scrutinised by the experts employed by the National Park and the Environmental Planning Inspectorate.
In considering how to balance this choice, the Moors’ own history is instructive.
Ironstone and other mining operations took place within what is now the National Park, with an impact that we can still see.
The ironstone railway embankment that stands above Rosedale is an example of an industrial artefact that has been well absorbed into the landscape.
What is proposed will leave by comparison a much smaller footprint.
It is difficult to see how it is possible to stand in the way of jobs, both immediate and long term, because of concerns about temporary damage to the Moors.
The cuts programme hits the poorest disproportionately hard and many of those worst hit live here in Whitby and Scarborough as well as on Teesside. So while we must value and cherish the Moors, so must we also value and cherish the people who live and work here.
(On a personal note, I would find it very difficult to look in the eye someone who was unemployed and say “We’ve opposed the possibility of a lot of jobs coming to this area, because a small part of the Moors will look unsightly for five or six years”)
For this reason we give general support to the proposal.
This support assumes that the proposals made by York Potash are both practical and safe. We are not in a position to make a judgement about this. Our detailed response asks the National Park and the Planning Inspectorate to probe the proposals with the utmost rigour.
In addition, there are areas where we have further suggestions which we have formally asked York Potash to consider.
• Noise pollution must be minimised
• Light pollution must be better tackled
• Storage of hazardous waste, nuclear or otherwise, must be forbidden
• Even more vigorous Moors restoration is needed
• Unions should be recognised, the living wage paid, and only contractors who do the same used.
Our conclusion is Jobs Yes, but not at any price
The Labour Party has already submitted its report to York Potash and will be using it as the basis for submission to the two planning bodies.
We are also planning to meet and brief Hilary Benn MP, the Shadow Communities Secretary whose job is to shadow Eric Pickles, the cabinet minister who will have the final say in any planning decision.
But The Labour Party’s job doesn’t end when we make our submission to the planning bodies.
If York Potash gets planning permission, we will be watching the construction and the operation of the mine every step of the way. This development is in such a sensitive part of the Moors, that every condition of any planning permission must be followed to the letter.
We are on the case. And we will stay on the case!