High Court agrees to hear Cumbria coal mine legal challenges

The proposals for Woodhouse Colliery

Protesters against plans to open a new coal mine in Cumbria have welcomed a ruling by a High Court judge for two legal challenges to proceed to a three-day hearing.

It follows the Government’s decision to grant planning permission for the West Cumbria Mining (WCM) scheme.

Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) launched legal challenges to the decision.

In a court order sent to both claimants, the judge said that, instead of convening a hearing for the parties to request permission to proceed to a full trial, which was due to take place on Tuesday, May 23, their cases will now be heard at what’s known as a ‘rolled up’ hearing.

In practice this is the same as a trial. It will last for three days and is likely to take place in the summer or autumn.

Earlier this week, it was reported that a Supreme Court appeal over plans to allow oil drilling at Horse Hill in Surrey, brought by the appellant Sarah Finch, could set a precedent for the legality of approving new fossil fuel developments. The landmark challenge is due to take place on June 21, with the company behind the Cumbrian mine intervening as an interested party.

Friends of the Earth and SLACC launched their legal challenges in January after Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, gave planning permission to the new coking 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.

SLACC and Friends of the Earth contend that Mr Gove failed to account for the significant climate impacts of the mine, including the acceptability of carbon credits to offset the mine’s emissions, the international precedent that opening a new mine would set and the impact of opening the mine on the global coal market.

Maggie Mason, of SLACC, said: “This is a positive and sensible decision.

“Having looked at the submitted papers, the Court has decided it is worth scheduling a three-day hearing on SLACC and Friends of the Earth’s legal challenges.

“SLACC members and supporters will observe the Finch versus Surrey County Council Hearing in June, and hope that the death and destruction caused by burning oil and gas will, in future, be taken into account before any new mines and oil wells are given planning permission.”

Friends of the Earth campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said: “We’re delighted the court agrees that our legal challenge against this mine deserves to be heard.

“We believe the Secretary of State made significant climate-related errors when he granted planning permission for this development, and that his decision was unlawful.

“With climate breakdown accelerating even faster than scientists predicted, it’s more important than ever that Ministers’ decisions reflect the long term interests of people and the planet, and not misguided short term political considerations.”

The West Cumbria Mining 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 could produce 65 million tonnes of metallurgical coal in its proposed lifetime from 2028 to 2049.

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.