Climate groups to fight on as High Court refuses legal challenge against Cumbria coal mine

Protestors oppose new Cumbria coal mine

Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) are to apply to the High Court to reconsider its refusal to hear a legal challenge over the government’s decision to grant planning permission for a new coal mine in Cumbria.  

They say claimants have a right to a specially convened hearing to try and persuade the court to change its mind, and such challenges often succeed.   

West Cumbria Mining is pressing ahead, with government support, to open a coal mine under the sea off the West Cumbria coast.

In response to the court’s ruling, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told BBC News: “The Secretary of State has agreed to grant planning permission for a new metallurgical coal mine in Cumbria as recommended by the independent planning inspector.

“The reasons for the Secretary of State’s decision are set out in full in his published letter, alongside the report of the independent planning inspector who oversaw the inquiry.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further given ongoing legal proceedings.”

The Woodhouse Colliery scheme was approved in December and West Cumbria Mining claims it will mine millions of tonnes of coking coal for the UK steel industry, and will create 500 jobs with as many as 1,500 more in the local supply chain.

Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) sought permission for a legal challenge after Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, gave planning permission to the controversial coking coal mine in December 2022. The organisations were the two main parties opposing the coal mine at the planning inquiry which took place in September 2021. 

Carole Wood, chair of SLACC, a small campaigning charity based in Kendal, Cumbria, said: “We are disappointed with this decision, but we and our legal team are firmly of the view that there are legal errors in the government’s decision to permit the mine.   

“The government sought to turn a blind eye to the climate impacts from burning the coal that will be produced by the mine, and we look forward to a hearing to consider whether this approach can be lawful.” 

SLACC is represented by Matthew McFeeley of Richard Buxton Solicitors and by Estelle Dehon KC and Rowan Clapp of Cornerstone Barristers. 

Friends of the Earth is represented by Rowan Smith at Leigh Day solicitors, and by Paul Brown KC, Alex Shattock (both Landmark Chambers) and Toby Fisher (Matrix Chambers). Friends of the Earth’s lead in-house lawyer on the case is Niall Toru.