Cumbria coal mine: Date set for High Court challenge by environmental groups

Pictured: An artist's impression of the completed mine. Image: West Cumbria Mining Company

The High Court has today (31 May) confirmed that it will hear submissions from Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change in October. A three-day ‘rolled up’ hearing has been scheduled for 24-26 October. A judgement will be made immediately on the final delay.

Friends of the Earth lawyer Niall Toru said the group has “a strong case against the decision to grant planning permission for this coal mine and looks forward to setting it out before the court”.

However, the decision was called in by the UK Government in early 2021 on the grounds of the potential climate impact of the use of the extracted coal. Ministers asked for a full assessment of the mine’s compatibility with national and international climate targets.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove had the final say once updated assessments had been provided, and gave the project the go-ahead in December 2022.

Very quickly, environmental groups began to question Gove’s conclusions. For example, Gove stated that the mine could be net-zero in operation if its operators procured carbon credits, but offset certification provider Gold Standard has stated that it will not provide credits for coal mining projects.

There is also fierce debate about whether the mine will lock in coal in the steelmaking sector, just as the sector needs to accelerate the adoption of lower-carbon alternatives. Coal extracted from the mine will be used in steelmaking in the UK and overseas, with most of its resources exported.

Gove’s decision caused a row in the House of Commons and was strongly criticised by both the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and net-zero review author Chris Skidmore MP.

South Lakes Action on Climate Change’s chair Carole Wood said: “Gove’s rationale for approving a new UK coal mine, that would extract and export coal until 2050, was seriously flawed, and involves issues of national and international importance that must be examined.”

West Cumbria Mining has acknowledged the legal challenge but is still planning to commence construction in 2024, it confirmed in a statement earlier this month.

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