Controversial Cumbria coal mine gets go ahead

By Dominic Ellis
UK government refuses to intervene in project's planning process, paving the way for the UK's first new colliery in 30 years...

A controversial coal mine in Cumbria is set to move forwards following the UK government’s refusal to intervene in the planning process for the project, meaning the country could have its first new colliery in 30 years.

When operational, the mine will supply metallurgical coal to the UK and international steel industry, deliver hundreds of local jobs and support "a first-class supply chain across the county".

“I am delighted that the holding direction has been lifted following what has been an extremely rigorous planning process. My team and I are now looking forward to concluding planning sign-off and then being able to commence preparatory steps to begin site work later this year,” said Mark Kirkbride, CEO of West Cumbria Mining. 

“WCM would like to thank all those people and organisations, both in the local community and further afield, who have supported the project over the past six years with particular thanks to Copeland MP Trudy Harrison, Workington MP Mark Jenkinson, Copeland Mayor Mike Starkie and Allerdale Deputy Leader Mike Johnson,” the statement continues.

The proposal to build the £165 million mine was given the greenlight by Cumbria City Council in October 2020, but the project was immediately put on hold after Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick said he was considering requests to review the project due to environmental and climate change concerns.

Green campaigners have warned that the project could result in an additional nine million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year and had hoped that Jenkins would use his power to reverse the decision on the basis of the project undermining the UK’s 2050 Net Zero targets, as well as diplomacy efforts in the run up to the COP26 UN climate change summit in Glasgow later this year.

Campaigners' hopes were raised following the government’s decision to block plans for a separate coal mine in the north east, citing concerns over its climate impact.

However, in a letter, Jenrick wrote he would not intervene to stall or block the project, arguing that the government was ‘committed to give more power to councils to make their own decisions on planning issues’.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has also confirmed the decision in a statement:

"Planning decisions should be made at a local level wherever possible," it says. "This application has not been called-in and is a matter for Cumbria County Council to decide."

In October last year, Cumbria County Council voted 12-3 to approve the project, which West Cumbria Mining says will generate 500 direct jobs and bring much-needed investment to the region.

The mine - known as the Woodhouse Colliery - is designed to produce coking coal for the steel and chemical industries, rather than for power generation. WCM says that the project will reduce the UK steelmaking industry's reliance on more carbon-intensive imports of foreign coal. 

The mine would extract about three million tonnes of coal annually, mainly from under the seabed, and the firm has promised to close the mine before 2049, arguing this would make it compatible with the UK's net zero goal.

Last month's Sixth Carbon Budget - The UK's path to net zero report from the Committee on Climate Change has recommended a 78 percent reduction in UK territorial emissions until 2035 - relative to 1990 - bringing forward the previous 80 percent target by nearly 15 years (click here). 


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