Decision on Cumbria coal mine pushed back for a third time
A decision on whether the Government will approve or deny planning permission for a new coal mine in Cumbria has been pushed back a third time, with a decision now expected by 8 December 2022.
The Government was due to make a planning decision in July 2022 on West Cumbria Mining’s proposals for a new deep coal mine in Whitehaven. Cumbria County Council approved the plans in October 2020 and, for several months, the Government resisted calls to intervene with that decision. But, ultimately, a public inquiry was ordered in March 2021 with the mine’s compatibility with national and international climate targets being the key sticking point.
The inquiry officially closed late last year and the Government had originally promised to make a final planning decision on or before 7 July.
That date was then pushed back again and was expected to be made this week, just days prior to COP27 in Egypt.
However, Friends of the Earth received a letter from the government confirming the delay. The environmental charity claim that a decision is now due “on or before 8 December 2022”.
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said: “The run up to next week’s climate summit was an ideal opportunity for the government to rebuild its battered green credentials by rejecting this damaging and unnecessary coal mine. It’s a shame they didn’t seize it.
“Secretaries of State may come and go but the case against this mine is as strong as ever. It will increase emissions, while the market for its coal is rapidly diminishing with steel plants moving to greener production methods.
“Reintroducing the fracking ban was a good first step, but if Rishi Sunak is to really keep his pledge to make climate change a priority his government must leave coal in the ground. Instead they should boost renewables and home insulation to create the new jobs that areas like Whitehaven need.”
The Cumbria coal mine has proved to be a controversial project, with many arguing that its goes against the UK’s net-zero target for 2050.
Proponents of the project highlight that the coal produced would not be used for power generation in the UK or abroad. The UK is bringing all coal generation offline by October 2024. Instead, the coal will be used by the steel industry. Proponents argue that it would be better to serve British steelmakers with local coal than to import coal, as imported coal also comes with the emissions associated with international shipping. They also point to the job creation potential of the mine.
Opponents have pointed out that even if the coal is used for steel, other nations – looking to the UK as COP26 president – will deem it acceptable to expand coal power and to keep using coal in manufacturing steel and other goods for a longer time.
There are also questions about whether British steelmakers will really want the coal, as they lean in to cleantech investments. The UK Government was told by the Climate Change Committee that coal should not be used for British steelmaking beyond 2035. Yet West Cumbria Mining applied to dig, potentially, through to 2049. Operations are actually likely to be far shorter – but that, in itself, raises questions around the just transition and levelling up.