Cumbria coal mine: High Court refuses to hear legal challenge, green groups vow further action

Image: Friends of the Earth

Proposed by West Cumbria Mining, the mine would be the first of its kind to open in the UK in more than 30 years. Cumbria County Council initially approved West Cumbria Mining’s proposals for the project in October 2020.

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.

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.

Less than one month after Gove made his decision, Friends of the Earth confirmed its intention to lodge a legal challenge against the UK Government at the High Court. Its challenge was subsequently supported by South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC).

The crux of the challenge is the argument that the UK Government has not properly accounted for the climate impact of the mine across its life-cycle, including its impact on the steel sector’s low-carbon transition. Also challenged is the international precedent the mine sets.

The two groups have today (12 April) stated that the High Court has refused to hear their challenge and vowed to contest this decision. edie has reached out to the High Court for further clarification.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “This isn’t the decision we had hoped for, but it isn’t the end of the line. We still believe that giving the go ahead to the Whitehaven coalmine was unlawful and we will be asking the court to reconsider its decision.

“Opponents of the mine raised critically important, climate-related questions in the planning inquiry, but these were either fudged or avoided. With the world in an accelerating climate crisis, these issues cannot be ignored.”

Related article: Q&A with ClientEarth: What makes a climate litigation case?

Comments (1)

  1. Albert Dowdeswell says:

    The money being spent on this new Coal Mine should be used to rapidly accelerate steel production using Green Hydrogen, already being done in Sweden, search:-
    H2 green
    H2 steel/volvo

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