This afternoon Cumbria County Council approved, for the second time, the application by West Cumbria Mining to extract 2.78 million tonnes of coking coal a year from Woodhouse Colliery, near Whitehaven.
The Councillors said that it was a finely balanced decision, with the Council proposing 101 conditions on the project. The council has already reduced the lifespan of the proposed operation from 2070 to 2049. The scientific arguments around emissions seemed to be too complex for some of the Councillors to grasp.
A year ago the decision to approve this mine was unanimous, this time 12 were in favour of accepting the application, 3 were against and 2 abstained from the voting.
The coal from this site is suitable for use in steel making, but would mainly be shipped to Europe. Alternatives methods of new steel production such as Direct Reduction Iron and recycling scrap steel already exist.
If this mine were to go ahead it would mean the first new underground coal mine to be started in the UK in many years. The last underground mine, Kellingley Colliery which produced coal for power stations was closed in 2015.
The Councillors who voted against the application had varying reasons, including expecting that the quantity of coal mined in the USA would not be reduced as the companies would find alternative markets in the USA or Latin America. West Cumbria Mining said that this mine's coal production would mean coal in other places was left underground and so there would not be additional carbon emissions due to mining an additional 2.78 million tonnes of coal but this was not unanimously accepted and has been refuted by top economists. Another Councillor had strong concerns about heritage impacts. Both the Chair and the Vice Chair voted against the application.
One of the Councillors who voted in favor of the application said, "I wasn't elected to do global issues, I was elected to do Cumbria issues".
Now the decision will go to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, to decide whether he will call for a inquiry headed by a planning inspector into the application. If this happens the ultimate decision will be with the Secretary of State who has recently rejected the application by Banks Group to extract coal by opencast coal mining, from the Northumberland coast line.
Robert Jenrick warned the council that he would make this move if they decided to approve the application, before the hearing took place. Therefore this decision is not final.
Will you help to encourage the Secretary of State to call in this decision and decide against the application? There is a new petition launched after the application was approved, addressed to the Secretary of State.
Anne was at the hearing, and these were her thoughts at the end: "Today was a missed opportunity by Cumbria County Council to show real support for decarbonising the steel industry and rejecting this mine. The decision clearly involved careful consideration from some of the Councillors, but many said it was an exceptionally difficult case, leading to two abstentions. Society's understanding that we cannot continue to use old technology in the face of the climate emergency is growing. Consequently the Secretary of State has said he will consider whether this decision should be made by Government is an important step, a year ago that possibility was dismissed."
The UK government needs to take a strong stand on decarbonising heavy industry by stopping this application and making policy decisions that ensure real zero carbon is met quickly through bold action. The UK's hosting of the Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow next year should be a big encouragement to make the right decision and reject this and other projects which would worsen global climate change.
West Cumbria Mining, the company behind the application, is owned by Australian company EMR Capital.
The UK Government has committed itself to reach net zero carbon by 2050 but as yet has not managed to set out a roadmap to decarbonise the UK steel industry.
At a time when we need to rapidly de-escalate from fossil fuels, Cumbria County Council is set to approve a new coal mine which would last until 2049 – well beyond 2030 when most of our emissions reductions must be underway in order to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.
We're calling on Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local government, to call-in the decision and refuse the mine permission to start - focus on a green recovery instead.
Learn more here about reasons to oppose the mine
On the 8th September 2020, the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government rejected Banks Group's application to mine coal at Highthorn close to Druridge Bay, Northumberland. This is the second time a Secretary of State has rejected this application, following Northumberland County Council's 2016 approval of the opencast mine application.
This is a huge victory for Save Druridge the local campaign group against the mine. Local resident, Local resident Lynne Tate said, “The thought of this area being once again torn up, for a destructive opencast site over a period of seven years was unimaginable.”
Banks Group also had an application to extend their existing opencast mine in the Pont Valley, which it calls, Bradley rejected in July by Durham County Council.
There is currently only one opencast coal mine operating in England, none in Scotland and three in Wales.
The existing mines, by company are:
Celtic Energy: 1) East Pit, Neath Port Talbot and 2) Nant Helen, Powys (closure December 2021)
Merthyr (South Wales): Ffos-y-fran, Merthyr Tydfil
Banks Group proposed site:
Dewley Hill, on the outskirts of Newcastle, the planning hearing has been delayed by Covid protections.
There are currently no underground mines operating of significant size
Proposed Underground Mines
West Cumbria Mining have amended their application for the land aspect of a new underground coking coal near Whitehaven in May 2020. If constructed this would produce coking coal for export for 50 years. Cumbria County Council has said a hearing date for a decision will be no earlier than October 2020.
New Age Explorations (an Australian company) are applying for licences for an underground coking coal mine at Lochinvar, on the border between England and Scotland. If constructed the company hopes to be producing coal until 2044.
Drax power station has announced that it will stop burning coal by March 2021 after almost five decades as one of western Europe’s most polluting power plants. Sadly the last two units are being replaced with another polluting fossil fuel, gas. Much of the wood which it burns comes from the clear-felling of biodiverse forests in Europe and the Southern USA which are home to many rare and endangered species.
EDF are reviewing the future of its West Burton power station, after the governmental support through the capacity market payments stop in September 2021. West Burton burns coal from Banks Group’s opencast mines in the North East of England, as well as imported coal.
Kilroot coal and oil power station in Northern Ireland is going to be converted to gas. No timeline for the end of coal use has been announced.
At Ratcliffe on Soar power station the owner Uniper plans to turn the power station into an incinerator for household waste and produce heat and electricity. There is no planning permission for this yet. United Kingdom withouth incineration network (UKWIN) highlight the problems with incinerators including air pollution and climate change, with a campaign against an incinerator at Ratcliffe.
The alternative fuels proposed at Ratcliffe, Kilroot and Drax would result in slightly lower greenhouse gas emissions and not require coal mining. However, these changes are not solutions to the climate or air pollution crisis and they involve building new infrastructure reliant on combustion leaving us dependent on fossil fuels or high levels of domestic waste.
Coal phase-out In early February the Prime Minister said that the coal phase-out could be brought forward from the end of 2025 to October 2024. This is not soon enough for communities at the front-lines of fossil fuel extraction.
Reduced demand for electricity due to the covid pandemic means that no electricity has been generated from coal since the 10th April 2020. 55 days and counting at the point of writing (4th June 2020).
Total UK coal stock levels increased in 2018 to 5.3 million tonnes, broadly similar to the previous year. 
There is already more coal above ground than the UK government predicts will be consumed if coal were phased-out in 2025. We don’t need to extract or import any more. This is especially so, if the phase-out date is brought forward.
 The Coal Authority, Production and Manpower returns for three month period January to March 2020 and other sources.
 Department for Business, Industry and Industrial Strategy, Statistical Press Release. UK Energy Statistics, 2019 & Q4 2019 (26 March 2020) page 6
Queries and media contact: info @ coalaction . org .uk (without spaces)
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Late on the 8th September 2020, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said that Banks Group will not be allowed to extract coal from Highthorn, close to Druridge Bay, Northumberland. Save Druridge, the local community group, are delighted.
Local resident Lynne Tate said, “Save Druridge have been fighting against Banks Group trying to open a coal opencast at Druridge Bay for the last seven years. We are extremely pleased therefore that once again a Secretary of State, namely Robert Jenrick, has rejected this application. Druridge Bay is a beautiful area consisting of a seven mile beach and dunes, many wildlife reserves, a coastal footpath, agricultural fields and woods running up to meet the A1068. The thought of this area being once again torn up, for a destructive opencast site over a period of seven years was unimaginable.”
On behalf of the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local government the official letter said, “the proposed development is not likely to provide national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh its likely impacts (taking all relevant matters into account, including any residual environmental impacts). It therefore fails the test required by paragraph 211(b) of the [National Planning Policy] Framework. The presumption against the granting of permission for the extraction of coal therefore applies in this case.”
Banks Group wanted to extract 2.765 million tonnes of coal by opencast methods. The original application was submitted in October 2015 for coal for combustion at power stations. The application was rejected by Sajid Javid in October 2018. The UK government is now planning on phasing-out coal by 2024, earlier than the original date of 2025.
Anne Harris from the Coal Action Network says, “This is a really significant decision. The UK government has finally acted on its own words regarding emissions and stopped a new opencast coal mine. There is no justification for continuing to exploit the world's resources when climate change is increasingly being felt, particularly by those in the global south who least contributed to the atmospheric changes.”
She goes on to say, “It was really important for global action on climate change that the decision went this way at Highthorn. We need to stop extracting coal globally and stop burning it anywhere. The government's decision to stop the mine was the only one that serves the needs of the local, national and international populations and ecosystems.”
June Davison, who lives adjacent to Banks' opencast site in the Pont Valley Durham which stopped removing coal last month says, “I've watched as the Pont Valley has been ripped apart and now the government finally say they will not support the extraction and burning of coal at Druridge Bay. The joy I can take in this decision is that this opencast coal site in the Pont Valley will be the last opencast.”
Jos Forester-Melville who is campaigning against a further Banks Groups opencast mine application at Dewley Hill near Throckley, Newcastle-upon-Tyne said, “We’re delighted to hear the outcome of this very positive result for our friends at Druridge Bay. In essence, it’s the only decision that could be made which will preserve the beautiful landscape but more importantly, the environment and people’s health. We very much hope this is reflective of the decision which should be made about open cast proposals at Dewley Hill and indeed at all sites across the North East. Coal is very much our past and it’s great to see that the decision has been upheld that it holds no part in our future.”
Anne Harris went on to say, “The Secretary of State did not believe Banks Group's claim that industrial coal demand will remain at current levels. We've seen huge falls in demand for coal for power stations. Now it's time to invest in long-term jobs in environmentally appropriate renewable energy and decarbonising heavy industry, there is no future for coal. There is no crisis needing coal supply, the real crisis, in addition to the current pandemic, is the climate emergency."
A community campaign group lead by residents of Throckley, Newcastle, against Banks Group's plan to extract 800,000 tonnes of coal and 40,000 tonnes of fireclay from agricultural and wooded land. They have raised concerns about the impact on local wildlife, access to countryside, local watercourses and the climate emergency.
Since summer 2019, Defend Dewley Hill have amassed thousands of letters of objection to the opencast, lead walks on the land to connect people with nature, and built networks across Newcastle to fight the opencast together.
The Dewley Hill application is expected to be heard and decided by Newcastle City Council in September 2020 but no date has been set. The deadline for objections has closed but there may be more actions to come.
300 metres from houses at High Stables, Dipton, the habitats of protected species are being destroyed to extract coal; fuelling climate change and lining the pockets of the mining company, Banks Group.
We believe we can prove that Banks Group has committed crimes against wildlife, and the government let them continue their destructive project, despite claiming to be ‘powering past coal’.
So far we've won public inquiries, camped in the snow, documented protected species on the site and more. We will use all tools available to us to stop the opencast and challenge the power of fossil fuel companies. Flick back through our recent posts to read more about these actions.
Why legal battles?
We are helping to fight two legal battles, one against the government for allowing the opencast to go ahead and the other against Banks itself for destroying the breeding grounds of a protected species.
We need your help to raise the funds. Please donate and share our crowd funder.
1) Judicial Review
The Secretary of State provided no reasoning or evidence to justify upholding Banks’ permit, when over 88,500 people signed a petition to support the letter with 25 local signatories and four community groups which put forward detailed arguments as to why it should be revoked. The former Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government stopped Banks mining at Druridge Bay earlier this year citing the damage that burning this coal would cause to the environment as a main concern.
Update: The Judicial Review will be heard 18th January in Leeds.
One of the local residents is challenging the decision not to stop the opencast in the Pont Valley in the High Court. Support her by donating to our crowd funder.
2) Private Prosecution for wildlife crimes
On the 17th April we caught an endangered Great Crested Newt in a pitfall trap. This collaborates with the three surveys undertaken by UK Coal in 2007, 2011 and 2014 all of which found Great Crested Newts near the Brooms Pond.
Update: The Judicial Review will be held in Leeds on the 18th January.
Banks Group paid Argus Ecology to survey the area in 2017. In a court case stemming from the eviction of our camps in April it became apparent that this survey was substandard, the best available technique – pitfall trapping was not used.
Banks Group knew that if protected newts were found to be breeding on the site this year then the opencast could not be started prior to planning running out on the 4th June. A 250m exclusion zone from Brooms Pond would be required to have enabled pitfall trapping and translocation of amphibians to the ponds created for this purpose to the north of this site. This would have prevented work on the access road.
The wildlife crimes relating to the newts and also in relation to ground nesting birds was reported hundreds of times to Durham police. The police failed to investigate properly, leaving us with no choice but to prosecute Banks Group ourselves.
Based on these events we believe we have the stronger argument against the opencast, and against Banks' 'Development with Care' image. National and local government has failed us - we need to take this to the courts.
What can we win?
WIN #1. Stop the coal extraction & save the Valley
Coal extraction has started in one part of the site, but the north-eastern section is not due to be worked until around May 2019. There is still some of the Pont Valley which can be saved. By putting the Secretary of State's decision to a legal test, we will seek a verdict against the opencast to stop it for good.
WIN #2. A ruling against Banks Group as wildlife criminals
So there can be no doubt that their ‘development with care’ image is a myth. This will help our allies to challenge Banks’ other proposed opencast coal sites in the region such as Druridge Bay.
WIN #3. Expose ‘dodgy ecology’
Through this campaign we’ve learned how common it is for developers to cherry pick evidence with the help of an ecologist, at the expense of protected species. Through this prosecution we aim to show that developers can be held accountable and that wider change is needed for safeguarding wildlife in the UK.
WIN #4. Hold the government to account
With no explanation, they let Banks go ahead in spite of all the evidence, even as other opencasts were called in by the government or failed to win planning permission on the grounds of damage to climate, health and ecology. Without plausible, transparent, well-argued reasons, the Secretary of State cannot claim that this outcome is legally, politically, economically or morally acceptable. They mustn't be let off the hook, for the sake of other communities fighting opencast and dirty development.
How will we do it?
What’s the chance of success?
High for the private prosecution against Banks for wildlife crime; A judge already ruled in favour of the Pont Valley Protection Camp, on the basis that Banks Group couldn’t present sufficient evidence to prove that endangered species were not on the site.
For the Judicial Review holding the Secretary of State accountable; launching it in itself will enforce transparency around the Secretary of State’s decision. The likelihood of getting the opencast stopped won’t be known until we get part way through the process – when a judge will decide whether our challenge can go forward to a full hearing. To begin, we need you to pledge in the knowledge that whether or not we can stop the opencast, there is more we can win for other campaigns against opencast in the process.
What's the cost?
1. Wildlife crime prosecution : £15,000
2. Judicial Review of government's decision (first stages) : £13,000
Taking the government AND a corporation to court is a bold move. It’s going to be a new journey with many highs and lows, and we can’t do it without you.
Legal battles are expensive. The success will be determined by how many people are willing to get behind us.
It's our last chance to save what is left of the Valley - but this is bigger than that. It’s a unique opportunity to set a legal precedent to reign in the power of dirty development and make our government act accountably when there is so much at stake for wildlife and the climate.
Banks Group want to expand the Bradley Opencast coal mine in the Pont Valley. Campaign to Protect Pont Valley have launched a new campaign to oppose this planning application and they need your support.
Inspired by Defend Dewley Hill, which this summer garnered over 4,000 objections to Banks Group’s proposal to opencast near Newcastle, we want to raise ‘a mountain’ of objections to the scheme.
I am opposed to this extension of the Bradley opencast in the Pont Valley because.......
Can you email Durham County Council to tell them in your own words why you are opposed to this opencast extension?
Some of the reasons people object to it:
- Noise, dust and blasting near to homes
- This coal is not needed.
-Destruction of further habitats
-We need to stop burning fossil fuels now
Read on below to find out more about these.
Choose one or two. Find a way to say it in your own words. It doesn’t need to be long, or super knowledgeable. It needs to show you care. It can also be long if you have an eye for detail and some time.
Email your objection to firstname.lastname@example.org and copy in email@example.com
Make sure to include these two reference numbers DM/19/03567/MIN and DM/19/03569/VOCMW and your postcode.
I am opposed to this extension of the Bradley opencast in the Pont Valley because.......
• Homes close to the site will be affected – there are homes 150 metres from the site, even closer than High Stables where people already experience daily noise, regular blasting and dust falling in their gardens, which they are breathing in. It will be only 80 meters from the local pub, the Jolly Drovers.
• There is a cumulative impact with the original mine and surrounding deforestation, an extension would add to this – local authorities are meant to protect people from the cumulative impact of ‘development’. Local residents complaints about the existing opencast ignored. Banks claim they offer ‘development with care’ but we feel we have been treated with nothing but contempt.
• Five more months of coal dust and blasting. Banks say that the expansion can be done within the original time frame and restoration completed in 12 months by August 2021. They are keeping quiet about coal extraction needing to go on for a further 5 months, to Jan 2021 instead of finishing in August 2020.
• There are protected species on the land they want to dig up – birds, butterflies, badgers and rare fungus. This habitat has already been severely damaged by the existing mine and an expansion will put increased stress on the diverse species that remain in the area. It permanently affects the migration and nesting sites of birds; swallows, cuckoos, skylarks and curlew which may never return.
• The new application doesn’t support any additional jobs. Banks say it supports jobs, but workers could move to their wind projects.
Global/National Reasons to object
• We don’t need more coal. Banks claim they are saving carbon emissions in transport because the coal is ‘local’, but they are adding to the UK’s huge surplus of coal, which is being increasingly exported abroad and contributes to climate change wherever it is burned.
• The tide has turned against coal. There have been no new opencast approved through the planning system since January 2016.
• Durham County Council has declared a Climate Emergency. The UK is meant to be carbon neutral by 2050.
• Banks coal is going to power stations where there is already a substantial surplus. They claim their coal is essential for steel manufacturing but have provided no evidence that that is where it’s going. Furthermore, the steel industry already has established suppliers of coal and is not expanding.
There are two main campaigns to stop Woodhouse Colliery
South Lakes Action on Climate Change (Towards Transition) undertake a range of climate-related activities in the South Lakes Area. They bring planning expertise to the campaign to stop Whitehaven, and have useful resources on their website:
Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole is run by Radiation-free Lakeland, focussing on the site's proximity to Sellafield nuclear plant and on local environmental impacts.
While the application was approved in 2019, in 2020 it returned to the drawing board as a result of legal and planning challenges brought by Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole and solicitors firm Leigh Day. The plans could be decided on afresh as soon as October 2020. The deadline for objections has passed but there may be more actions coming up.