Woodhouse Colliery: the facts

West Cumbria Mining want to dig an underground coking coal mine under the sea near to Whitehaven, Cumbria. If approved the mine would produce 2.78 million tonnes of coking coal a year for fifty years, mainly for export to European steel works.


Update 25th June 2020 – the planning hearing was scheduled for the 8th July 2020.  Cumbria County Council has said, “Due to unprecedented numbers of representations being received on this application, including some received after the Consultation deadline and some that have contained new evidence, the Council has decided to postpone taking this application to the Development Control and Regulation Committee for a decision on 8th July in order to properly consider all representations and documentation received.” Thank you for all your objections. 


Timeline of events
May 2017. Application was submitted to Cumbria County Council.
19th March 2019. Cumbria County Council approved the land section of the mine.
31st October 2019. The decision was ratified.
12th December 2019. Leigh Day lawyers served papers on Cumbria County Council on behalf of a local person, to bring them to a Judicial Review, a procedure whereby the process of deciding the planning application is reviewed.
6th May 2020. As part of the Judicial Review West Cumbria Mining amended the application.
15th June 2020. Deadline for objecting to the application.
July 2020. Date proposed for council planning hearing.
In future. The Marine Management Organisation considers whether to approve the undersea section of the mine.

What is coking coal?
There are broadly two types of hard coal which is the sort found in this country. Coking coal or metallurgical coal is processed and turned into coke. Coke is used as a reducing agent in the production of steel in blast furnaces. This is the type at the proposed Woodhouse Colliery.

The other major type of coal in the UK is thermal coal which is mainly used in power stations. Alternative energy sources are widely implemented.

This mine would produce exclusively coking coal. A significant amendment made in 2020 was to not mine any middlings coal, which West Cumbria Mining said would go to power stations.

Do we need more coal for steel making?
No. While steel remains a much used material in the construction of many infrastructure projects, it does not have to be produced using coal at all. Metallurgical coal can be replaced with natural gas in a process called Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) which creates about 40% less CO2 emissions than steel produced using coal. Globally natural gas based DRI already accounts for 5% of steel making.[1]

In order to further reduce emissions steel making techniques are developing quickly, with the Hybrit project from SSAB, LKAB, and Vattenfall aiming to begin production of steel as early as 2026 using hydrogen instead of natural gas.[2]

Why should we oppose this application?
1) We have to reach net zero carbon by 2050. This application proposes mining and using coal in steel works until after 2070.
2) The more coal is mined the more we burn.
3) There are no other existing UK mines producing predominantly coking coal.

Details of why the mine should not go ahead
1) In 2019 the Climate Change Act (2008) was amended. This enshrines in law the need for the UK to reach zero-carbon emissions by 2050.[3] If approved, this application would be supplying steel works with coal and emitting large amounts of carbon.
Steel manufacturing using blast furnaces and coke is a very polluting process. For every tonne of steel produced using coking coal, 770kg of coal is required and two tonnes of CO2 is released.[4] In the European Union there are around 500 plants.[5] Steel plants are now the biggest single point CO2 emitters in the Netherlands, Spain, UK, France, Austria, Finland and Slovakia. 8% of the CO2 emissions from countries in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in 2019 came from steel works.[6]

2) Professor Paul Ekins explains that, “There is no evidence to suggest that coal from the new mine would result in reductions in coal extracted from mines overseas. Basic economic theory suggests that […] an increase in the supply of a commodity such as coking coal will reduce the price of the commodity, leading to increased demand, and therefore increased emissions.”[7] Investment in the steel industry is needed now. Low cost coal is not the solution, coal free steel is.

3) The six opencast coal mines that will be operating after July 2020[8] all produce thermal coal for power stations and some additionally produce a small amount of coking coal. There is another application to extract coking coal from Lochinvar.[9] We need to show that this industry is not welcome in the UK for the reasons described above.

How to object
Write to Cumbria Council by the 15th June 2020. Please give the reasons why you believe that this application should be rejected. You must include the application reference No: 4/17/9007, your name and address including postcode. Anyone can object, you don’t have to be from the surrounding area.

The process from here
In July 2020 Cumbria County Council will decide the application (Covid 19 restrictions permitting).
Further legal avenues may be explored by either side of the argument if the decision is unsound. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, currently Robert Jenrick, could call in the decision. This means that the government makes the decision rather than relying on the ruling of the County Council. This could happen whatever the decision of Cumbria County Council.

[1] Material Economics, Industrial Transformation 2050 – Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions from EU Heavy Industry. (2019) page 84.
[2] SSAB, SSAB to be first to market with fossil-free steel (14 November 2019)
[3] Statutory Instruments The Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019 (26 June 2020)
[4] The Manufacturer, The Greensteel revolution: What’s it all about? (10 April 2018)
[5] European Commission, The EU Steel Industry
[6] Ember, Europe’s coal power collapse exposes steel plants as Europe’s biggest emitters (April 2020)
[7] Paul Ekins, Letter to Cumbria County Council, dated 5 December 2019. Available on request.
[8] Coal Action Network, using figures from The Coal Authority, Production and Manpower returns for three month period January to March 2020
[9] New Age Exploration, Lochinvar (Coking Coal)

Produced by Coal Action Network (UK) (4th June 2020)

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