The government’s decision not to block the UK's first deep coal mine for 30 years has prompted a major backlash from climate campaigners.
Woodhouse Colliery, a £165 million mine near the small port town of Whitehaven, was approved in October by Cumbria County Council.
The government was under pressure from campaigners and a growing number of MPs to “call-in” the plans, to give the Secretary of State the final say over whether the project proceeds.
But yesterday, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick announced the decision should remain “at a local level wherever possible”, meaning work on the mine could start as soon as later this year.
Under the plans, developer West Cumbria Mining would extract 2.8 million tonnes of coking coal a year for around 25 years from onshore and offshore seams. A 2020 report by independent thinktank Green Alliance says this would produce 8.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
Campaigners say the lack of intervention directly contradicts the government’s pledge to show “climate leadership” ahead of hosting the UN’s climate summit talks in Glasgow, and are now assessing options for further legal action.
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Maggie Mason, a campaigner at South Lakes Action on Climate Change and formerly a minerals planning officer at Cumbria County Council, criticised an “outrageous decision that flies in the face of the UK’s promises to address climate change and their claim to leadership through this year’s COP26”.
She told DeSmog: “It does beggar belief that Robert Jenrick could wash his hands of the effects of a new coal mine, extracting nearly three million tonnes of coal in the UK but almost entirely for export.”
Lissy Green, a 15-year-old student who last year went on hunger strike to protest against the mine, added: “It’s incredibly disappointing, but unfortunately unsurprising that these plans were called in by the government.”
Questioning the government’s argument that its decision was based on empowering the council, she said “this issue isn’t local when we will all suffer from the repercussions of the mine.”
The decision comes just weeks after campaigners celebrated a “changing tide” in coal mine applications, after plans to extract 800,000 tonnes of coal in Dewley Hill, near Newcastle, were rejected. A total of three mining developments from North East developer Banks Group have been thrown out since July last year.
While coal-fired power stations are being phased out in the UK by 2024, companies can still apply to produce coking coal for steel manufacture.
Since its initial application in 2014, West Cumbria Mining, whose primary shareholder is the Australian company EMR Capital Resources, has frequently claimed the mine would create 500 jobs in the area.
But Green Alliance suggests jobs in ex-industrial areas such as Whitehaven could also be generated through shifting to a low carbon economy, citing a 2019 study by IPPR North which has estimated that up to 46,000 jobs could be created in the north of England in the power sector alone.
In a statement, CEO Mark Kirkbride said the mine would “supply metallurgical coal to the UK and international steel industry, deliver hundreds of well-paid local jobs and support a first-class supply chain across the county”.
Preparatory work is expected to start later this year, with mining due to commence 18 months later, in 2023.
Main image credit: West Cumbria Mining