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Hearing delayed - challenges against Whitehaven coal mine approval

The hearing of two legal challenges against the government's approval of a 2.78 million tonne a year coking coal mine has been delayed from October, likely into the new year.

Part of both challenges rely on the outcome of a separate judgement from the Supreme Court. A judgment is due on that landmark case, over the decision to allow oil drilling at Horse Hill in Surrey, brought by campaigner Sarah Finch on behalf of the Weald Action Group. The Horse Hill challenge was heard by the Supreme Court in June and the court has not yet given judgment.

According to Friends of the Earth "lawyers for Ms Finch argued that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) carried out by developers before planning permission was granted should have accounted for the climate impacts from burning the oil extracted at Horse Hill. These are known as ‘downstream’ or ‘Scope 3’ emissions and were not accounted for during the planning process."

"Downstream emissions are increasingly being left out of environmental impact assessments when planning applications are made for fossil fuel projects, despite the huge climate impacts these projects will inevitably create, the mounting climate crisis and the UK government’s stated commitment to net zero."

"If Ms Finch’s challenge is successful, with the court potentially ruling that decision makers need to take into consideration downstream emissions before approving planning applications, the outcome of the Horse Hill case could have major implications for the future of the Whitehaven coal mine. It could open up new grounds for lawyers to argue against the mine’s approval on the basis that downstream emissions were not considered."

"The Supreme Court is not expected to give its judgment until autumn 2023 at the earliest. When that does eventually happen, the High Court will then set a date for the Whitehaven hearing, but there is likely to be a gap of at least ten weeks between judgment and hearing. Lawyers for Friends of the Earth and SLACC therefore believe a 2024 Whitehaven hearing is increasingly likely." Further details from Friends of the Earth can be read here.

Originally the two legal challenges by South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) and Friends of the Earth were rejected. Then it was decided that the cases will be heard at what’s known as a ‘rolled up’ hearing which in practice this is the same as a trial. As long as permission is given in day one, the trial will last for three days. This was planned  to take place 24th to 26th October 2023. This will now not be heard until a later date.

Friends of the Earth and SLACC launched their legal challenges in January 2023 after Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, gave planning permission to the new coking mine in December 2022. The organisations were the 2 main parties opposing the coal mine at the planning inquiry which took place in September 2021.

SLACC and Friends of the Earth contend that Mr Gove failed to account for the significant climate impacts of the mine, including the acceptability of carbon credits to offset the mine’s emissions, the international precedent that opening a new mine would set and the impact of opening the mine on the global coal market. For further details of the challenges see https://www.coalaction.org.uk/2023/01/27/legal-challenges-whitehaven/

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