Government orders public inquiry into Cumbria coal mine

The Government is set to intervene in the controversial plan to open a new coal mine in Cumbria, with a fresh inquiry as to whether it can be opened while keeping to national climate commitments mooted to take place.

Government orders public inquiry into Cumbria coal mine

The Council has already approved the project twice

According to a letter seen by The Independent, Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, has decided to intervene on the controversial project based on objections from green groups and the Government’s own climate watchdog.

At the start of January, the UK Government said it would not intervene in Cumbria County Council’s decision to approve the deep coal mine in Whitehaven – the first facility of its kind to gain planning approval in 30 years.

In a U-turn, Jenrick will now seemingly call in the project, with the letter claiming that the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) recent advice on the project suggests that it is not in alignment with the UK’s net-zero target.

The Council has already approved the project twice, but Jenrick has called for a public enquiry to take place, with a final decision to be made by an independent head of planning.

The CCC claims that the mine is projected to increase UK emissions by 0.4 million megatonnes of CO2e annually. This would be greater than the CCC’s projections for annual emissions from all open UK coal mines up to 2050 when the net-zero target will need to be met. Green groups also argue that the project should not be approved when the UK is trying to push for climate leadership and lead negotiations on a new global agreement at COP26.

“The secretary of state has decided to call this application in because of the further developments since his original decision,” the letter states.

West Cumbria Mining claims that the mine would be able to open 24 months after construction begins. It hopes to extract 2.5 million tonnes of coal from the undersea mine every year, for use in the UK and European steel industry. The company has said the mine will create 500 jobs and pay into a community fund for 10 years. 

Critics of the project argue that it could stifle progress towards aligning the UK’s steel sector with the 2050 net-zero target. Globally, steel is accountable for around 7% of global emissions from fuel use. Researchers believe that a combination of electrification, energy storage, alternative fuels and circular economy innovations are needed to align the sector with net-zero. Carbon capture and offsetting are also being explored by some producers.

More than 2,300 objections to the mine have been logged since 2017. Opposing groups include Friends of the Earth, WWF, Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion (XR) and local residents’ organisation Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “The Communities Secretary’s decision to call in this controversial coal mine is a startling, but very welcome U-turn. A new coal mine in Cumbria would not only wreck our climate, it would also destroy the UK government’s credibility ahead of crucial climate talks in Glasgow later this year.

“Planning permission must be refused: ending coal use, whether for power generation or for industry, is crucial for facing down the climate emergency. It was not possible for the government to maintain, as it claimed only two months ago, that this was just a matter of local importance and the decision will now rightly be taken at national level.”

Matt Mace

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