Cumbria County Council puts plans for controversial coal mine on hold

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

The County Council approved plans put forward by West Cumbria Mining (WCM) for a new mine near Whitehaven late last year. The local authority was warned that the Government had the right to call in the decision under planning laws but Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed in January that this course of action would not be taken.

Jenrick’s decision drew much scrutiny. Proponents of the mine pointed to its job creation potential and its ability to minimise the need for coal imports by the steel sector. Coal produced at the mine will not be used to fire electricity generation in the UK or abroad – the coal will be metallurgical, meaning it is earmarked for use in coking in the steel sector. 

But critics, nonetheless, said the council sent the wrong message on climate ambition in the lead up to COP26. Questions have also been raised about the quality of jobs at the proposed mine, given the government’s net-zero commitment, and about whether the mine would slow down efforts to get the steel sector to adopt low-carbon technologies.

Criticism came not only from local community organisations and large green groups, but from the UK Government’s own Climate Change Committee (CCC) and from MPs within Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party. These organisations were given coverage not only by dedicated environmental media outlets like edie, but by large broadcasters including the BBC.

Cumbria County Council has today (9 February) confirmed that it is taking these criticisms into account and has paused the project’s progression.

A spokesperson for the local authority said that the decision has been taken “because, in December 2020, the Government’s CCC released its report on its recommendations for the Sixth Carbon Budget, a requirement under the Climate Change Act.

“The report, among other things, sets out the volume of greenhouse gases the UK aims to emit during 2033-2037. This new information has been received prior to the issue of the formal decision notice on the application.”

The CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget advice charts a pathway for the UK to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, against a 1990 baseline. In comparison, the original Climate Change Act required the UK to deliver an 80% reduction by 2050, against the same baseline. The CCC is imploring the UK to “front-load” decarbonisation on the road to net-zero to minimise costs.

Cumbria County Council’s Development Control and Regulation (DC&R) Committee will now have to re-assess WCM’s application, with the CCC’s advice in mind, before final approval is granted. The Government is yet to respond to the advice but DC&R Committee members will be warned of the possibility that they could be accepted and enshrined into law in full.

Early reaction

Responding to the Council’s announcement, Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “Allowing this climate-wrecking coal mine to go-ahead would completely undermine UK leadership ahead of this year’s vital climate summit.

“Quite simply, there is no place for new coal extraction in the middle of a climate emergency. It’s time to leave coal in the ground and focus on fast-tracking a green industrial revolution. This will bring the new jobs and business opportunities that are needed in communities everywhere, including Cumbria.”

The UK Government is notably targeting two million “green collar” jobs by 2030 and is aiming to create these roles, in collaboration with the private sector, in alignment with its commitment to “level up” regions.

CPRE’s campaigns and policy director Tom Fyans said: “For the UK to host an international climate conference in Glasgow, while simultaneously approving a coal mine in Cumbria, just doesn’t add up. That’s why we’re pleased to see that Cumbria County Council is reviewing its decision to approve the coal mine in Whitehaven. This may only be a chink of light, but is a first step towards a major win for the environment, climate and the UK’s credentials as a world leader on climate change.   

“It’s crucial Cumbria County Council considers the significant concerns and compelling evidence raised by key experts on the coal mine and reverses its earlier decision. And in terms of leadership from central government, Ministers must begin to consistently prioritise clean energy and green jobs and resign coal to the dustbin of history. CPRE, our supporters and the world are watching closely.” 

Sarah George

* This story has been updated to clarify the fact that the proposed mine would produce coal for use in steel only.  


Comments (3)

  1. M Timo says:

    It’s sad that the proposed new coal mine in Cumbria will send a negative message on climate change to the rest of the Earth eating countries of the world. MT

  2. Philip Aspinall says:

    How do you make steel without carbon?

  3. Adam Bennett says:

    Is this correct?
    Do we know the real story?
    I was of the understanding the mine was for coking coal for local steel production where we are currently importing the coking coal?

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