Lord Ridley, the landed aristocrat and prominent climate denier, will start work this year on two new profitable opencast coal mines close to his Grade I listed stately home and acres of beautiful national park that make up his 8,500-acre estate.
The White-Ridley family has owned the stunning Blagdon Estate in Northumbria since 1700, where they have mined coal and fireclay to amass a considerable fortune while fuelling the Industrial Revolution and British Empire.
The peer’s property, held by a family trust, today covers a significant part of the open mines at Shotton and Brenkley Lane, north of Newcastle, which together contain 8.3m tonnes of coal, worth an estimated £607m on the spot market.
Banks Mining, which operates Ridley’s mines, has won planning permission to open two further opencast mines, with the Shotton Triangle Extension yielding 300,000 tonnes worth about £22m and Shotton South West providing 250,000 tonnes and £18m by 2017. Had permission not been given last year, the coal would have been ‘stranded’ and never mined.
Michael Gordon, The Journal via Creative Commons
Matt Ridley’s share of the estimated £13m in additional annual revenue to the main coal mines will come in helpful for upkeep of the family mansion – and it will keep the wolf from the door as Ridley continues to provide pro bono support to Britain’s climate denial campaigners.
Heir to the Fortune
The author of The Rational Optimist has given his backing to Owen Paterson, the sacked environment secretary, who also happens to be his sister Rose’s husband. Paterson launched the UK2020 think tank in an apparent leadership bid, he has attacked the ‘green blob’ of environmentalism and has attacked climate science.
Matt Ridley, a Conservative peer, is an advisor for Lord Lawson’s climate denial charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Ridley has not donated to the GWPF however, presumably because the charity has promised not to take cash from anyone with a ‘substantial interest’ in fossil fuels.
The son and heir of the coal fortune complains that, in fact, he only has a small share in the huge profits being made from mining on his land. He won’t say how much exactly, citing ‘commercial confidentiality’.
“The coal under my family’s land belongs to the state, being nationalised, so royalties go to the government, not the landowner,” he told DeSmog UK. “It also contributes generous taxes as well as funding welcome environmental benefits and numerous community projects.
“I receive no financial benefit other than a wayleave in exchange for providing access to the land … the wayleave is very small indeed in relation to the value of the coal mined from my family’s land.
“It is partly shared with local residents and the remainder, after paying tax, is almost entirely reinvested in the maintenance and improvement of the property.”
The coal is owned by the Coal Authority on behalf of the government, and therefore the general public. The Coal Authority supported the planning application. It seems landowners are only charged a peppercorn licence fee for mining coal*.
'Reckless' Northern Rock
The fact that the British state does not enjoy the full value of the coal on Ridley’s estate is loaded with irony. The landowner is an exponent of free market economics, which calls for a small state and few regulations.
Yet, Ridley was chairman of the ‘reckless’ Northern Rock bank when the former mutual became overexposed to deregulated financial markets and in 2007 was on the verge of collapse, causing the first run on a British bank since the Victorian era.
Gordon Brown, then chancellor, used the financial power of the state to put up a reported £3 billion in taxpayers’ money, saving the former mutual. Ridley resigned, protected by company law from having to pay any of the losses.
And it was the British state that forced Ridley’s mine on the local community. Northumberland County Council refused permission for the Shotton opencast mine, which faced public opposition, in 2008. But the then-Labour Local Government Secretary intervened.
There is further irony in the fact that Ridley, through the operator, employs 150 of the remaining 6,000 miners in Britain. His uncle, Nicholas Ridley, was responsible for the ‘Ridley plan’ executed by Margaret Thatcher to break British unions. The National Union of Mineworkers lost the 1984 strike, with 160,000 mining jobs destroyed.
Ridley does not think that the fortunes his family have made for generations mining coal in Northumbria has had any influence on his vocal support for fossil fuels and campaign of attacking climate science. “The coal industry has never tried to influence my views on climate science or policy,” he points out
The peer and journalist declares an interest in coal when speaking in the House of Lords and also when writing in The Times newspaper. He had his hand slapped, however, for failing to declare an interest in other energy companies.
DeSmog UK identified from company publications that the mines operating on and next to Ridley’s estate contain a total of 8.85m tonnes of coal ready to be mined, which, at today’s very low international spot prices, would be worth £647.5m. Ridley was provided with these estimates and didn’t challenge our figures.
*UPDATE 12 January 2015: Matt Ridley would pay licence fees and royalties for mining on his property. According to the Coal Authority, he will pay: 1. £575 per hectare of land mined per licence up to £13,800; 2. An annual licence fee of £575 for up to 5,000 tonnes of coal per year, £1,150 for 5,001 to 250,000 tonnes of coal and £5,750 for 250,001 or more tonnes of coal; 3. 17 per tonne of coal mined in production related rent that will go to the Treasury.
Photo: Blagdon Estate