Cumbria coal mine on hold after UK Gov’t calls for public inquiry

The main mine site will be located at the Marchon site (photo) based on public consultation. (Image courtesy of West Cumbria Mining.)

Plans to build the UK’s first new deep coal mine in three decades will be subject of a public inquiry following pressure for climate change advisers who said the project would “increase global emissions”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government had halted the development of West Cumbria Mining’s Woodhouse Colliery project in north-west England in October, while it decided whether to call in the application or hand the decision back to local authorities.

Housing minister Robert Jenrick confirmed on Friday the government’s decision to “call in” the controversial application and put it to a public inquiry.

“The Secretary of State has decided to call this application in because of the further developments since his original decision,” a letter signed by Jenrick said. “The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) recommendations for the 6th Carbon Budget have been published since he was advised on this decision.”

Ministers have previously been criticized for not blocking the coal mine, particularly given that the UK is hosting Cop26, the UN climate summit, in November. A few weeks ago one of the country’s most renowned environmental scientists, Robert Watson, said it was “absolutely ridiculous” that authorities were refusing to act.

“The truth is that this mine is terrible for our fight against climate change, won’t help our steel industry and won’t create secure jobs,” Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband told Sky News.

“Net-zero” goal questioned

The Cumbria council had approved the Woodhouse Colliery mine in October, with Jenrick refusing to intervene at the time. That sparked concern among the CCC who said the planned coal mine would threaten the UK’s target to zero-out greenhouse gas pollution by mid-century and damage its reputation as a climate leader.

The planned mine would produce as much as 3.1 million tonnes of metallurgical coal a year until 2049, one year before the country’s deadline to reach net zero emissions. While the UK will use some of that coal in its steel industry, 85% of it is marked for export to Europe.

In that period, the mine will provide 500 jobs, but the CCC also expects it to add about 400,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of emissions each year. 

“Of course, job creation is absolutely vital to communities but we must look forward to the jobs of 21st century, not back to those in declining industries,” Greenpeace UK’s policy director Doug Parr told MINING[dot]COM in February

study by the center-right think tank Bright Blue, published in October, shows that most in the UK are skeptical about achieving the net-zero target by 2050.

Greenpeace hailed the public inquiry announcement as “fantastic news and definitely better late than never”. Friends of the Earth added it was a “startling, but very welcome U-turn”, and urged the government to refuse permission for the project.

England’s last operating deep coal mine, Kellingley, closed in 2015, and the Bradley coal mine closed last year, after almost 200 years in operation.

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