Green light for Cumbria coal mine causes outrage among environmentalists

The proposals for Woodhouse Colliery

The Government’s decision to approve a Whitehaven coal mine in Cumbria – the first new mine in 30 years – has drawn strong criticism from ecological campaigners.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has approved the plans which were reconsidered by local councillors in February last year due to environmental concerns, and then put on hold while the UK hosted the COP26 conference in Glasgow last year.

The West Cumbria Mining (WCM) proposal aims to supply the UK and international steel industry with coal, delivering around 500 local jobs as part of the £175m scheme.

It is estimated the Woodhouse Colliery under-sea mine will produce 65 million tonnes of metallurgical coal in its proposed lifetime from 2028 to 2049.

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said: “Michael Gove cannot ignore the mountain of evidence stacked up against this mine.

“It will have a significant impact on the UK’s legally-binding climate targets, while the market for the mine’s coal is already starting to evaporate with the steel industry rapidly investing in green production.”

He added: “Areas like West Cumbria must be at the heart of a rapid transition to a green economy. This will help power our homes and industry, while creating the new jobs and opportunities locally that are so urgently required.”

Friends of the Earth argue that the demand for coking coal is declining, the mine isn’t needed to replace Russian coal, it would increase carbon emissions and approval would damage the UK’s climate credibility, it isn’t the right way to create jobs, and the potentially significant landscape and visual Impacts from the two main mine sites.

A Planning Inquiry into the coal mine took place in September 2021, where Friends of the Earth was one of the two main parties opposing the application for planning permission – along with local campaign group SLACC (South Lakes Against Climate Change).

Earlier this year, Lord Deben, the chairman of the Government’s advisory body on climate change, branded the proposed new mine “absolutely indefensible.”

However, a letter outlining the decision said Mr Gove agreed with the Planning Inspector’s recommendation to approve the mine.

It said Mr Gove was “satisfied that there is currently a UK and European market for the coal”.

And it said he agrees with the assessment that the effects of the development on carbon emissions “would be relatively neutral and not significant”.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the decision was consistent with the Government’s policies on curbing carbon emissions.

However, think tank, Green Alliance, said the mine could release as much climate-heating pollution as putting 200,000 extra cars on UK roads.

And the decision to approve the scheme is at odds with a pledge made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during this year’s COP27 climate conference in Egypt to make the UK a “clean energy superpower”.

But West Cumbria Mining says the mine will be the world’s first ‘net zero’ coal mine of its kind, as they will offset the emissions from the construction phase.

Mark Jenkinson, Conservative MP for Workington, said there is “no sense in importing all of our coking coal, which would be an abdication of our climate commitments”.

However, the issue is far from over, with environmentalists and opponents pledging to oppose the decision to approve the development.

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