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UK Government approves massive underground coal mine at Whitehaven, West Cumbria

At the end of 2021, Boris Johnson said, “I’m not in favour of more coal” in response to questions about the proposed Whitehaven coking coal mine during the Glasgow COP26 climate summit. Yet today a massive new underground coking coal mine has been approved just after COP27. The coal will largely be sold abroad as it is too polluting to be used by UK steel works. [1]

Since 2014, West Cumbria Mining Ltd has been looking to extract 2.78 million tonnes a year of coking coal off Whitehaven. Today, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities approved the mine following a public inquiry in September 2021. Both South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) and Friends of the Earth presented evidence as formal participants at the inquiry. There will likely be further legal action by one or both organisations against the approval. You can support the legal battle against the mine (live 8th December). Further permissions are still needed for the mine to commence.

Maggie Mason, a key campaigner with Cumbrian group, SLACC:

"I am appalled that Michael Gove, has approved a new coal mine in Cumbria. The UK Government has failed to keep UK planning law and guidance on coal in line with UK Climate targets, or with the needs of UK industry, leaving ambiguity, uncertainty and loopholes that have enabled an Australian coal company to extract coking coal unfit for the UK or EU steel industry right up to 2050. This is part of a pattern of UK consents for new oil, gas and coal extraction that makes a mockery of our supposed leadership role in this year of COP26.

Our government are failing to foster long lasting jobs either in West Cumbria or in the UK steel industry. Our legal team at Richard Buxton Solicitors, are examining the decision in detail to assess whether there are grounds for a legal challenge.

The decision letter from the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities said:

The government "is satisfied that there is currently a UK and European market for the coal (IR21.33), and that although there is no consensus on what future demand in the UK and Europe may be, it is highly likely that a global demand would remain (IR21.60)." This is despite the coal being largely unusable by UK steelmakers.

The decision letter goes on to say, "the development of the mine would not encourage the continued use of blast furnace production methods that would otherwise have been closed or converted to lower carbon technologies" which flies against reason.

Lord Deben, Climate Change Committee Chair

Prior to the government deciding that it would make this planning decision, over-ruling Cumbria County Council, Lord Deben Chair, Climate Change Committee wrote to Michael Gove’s predecessor. Lord Deben said, “The opening of a new deep coking coal mine in Cumbria will increase global emissions and have an appreciable impact on the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets. The mine is projected to increase UK emissions by 0.4Mt CO 2 e per year. This is greater than the level of annual emissions we have projected from all open UK coal mines to 2050.”[2]

He went on to say, “Coking coal use in steelmaking could be displaced completely by 2035, using a combination of hydrogen direct reduction and electric arc furnace technology to meet our recommendation that UK ore-based steelmaking be near-zero emissions by 2035.

Coal Action Network will continue to work with local people and others in opposition to this project. Get in touch (info@coalaction.org.uk) if you’d like to be part of it or if you have media inquiries.

[1] Cumbria County Council Executive Director - Economy and Infrastructure, Development control and regulation committee Application Reference No:4/17/90077.17 (2 October 2020) multiple points, page 32

[2] There are 3 others in the licencing and planning system at present. Aberpergwm extension, Lochinvar coking coal mine, and Glan Lash opencast extension. Coal Action Network is fighting all of these applications with local people.

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Derek West
Derek West
1 year ago

Not surprised by this decision,this Government has consistently back trcked on it’s promises
for a greener future. They are not fit to run this country.

Douglas Rogers
Douglas Rogers
1 year ago

Went to all the conferences in Scotland paralleling COP27 and it is now clear that the difficult problems – decarbonising industry farming and transport now have to be tackled in order to meet net-zero. All these issues need to be tackled head on – and yet here we have a plan to dig out coal in UK? The Micheal Gove’s of tis world don’t understand how having frittered away the last 40 years doing almost nothing means we have to treat this issue like Covid – oh wait they didn’t do that either.

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