Public inquiry over proposed West Cumbria coal mine begins

8 September 2021

A public inquiry into a planning application for a new coal mine in Whitehaven West Cumbria is finally underway.

The inquiry, which is being held virtually, started on Tuesday, and is headed by planning inspector, Stephen Normington. Over the next three to four weeks the inquiry will consider whether there is a sufficient demand for coking coal and future demand for it as an energy source in steel production.

The inquiry will also consider whether the proposed scheme is consistent with government climate change policies and the potential impacts on flooding and coastal change, as well as potential local employment in the region and the likely effects on tourism and the area's heritage.

Cumbria County Council, which had earlier approved the mine application from West Cumbria Mining (WCM), suspended the permission to further consider carbon policy "implications". The council said it will adopt a "neutral position" during the inquiry.

Whitehaven and West Cumbria generally, has a history of coal and iron ore mining and steel production dating back several centuries and the region was a vital part of the industrial revolution. Haig Pit, which extracted anthracitic suitable for coking coal from under the Irish Sea, was the last mine to close in Cumbria in 1986.

WCM has said its “indigenous” coking coal, also from under the sea, would principally supply British steelmaking and industry in EU countries, while creating jobs for people in West Cumbria.

WCM argued that extraction of locally-sourced coal has a lower carbon impact than imported coking coal, which is used by the steel industry. Others argue that only 15% of the coal extracted would go to UK-based companies, with the remainder being exported to Europe, generating more carbon impacts.

A major part of the inquiry will focus on whether the proposed new mine meets the UK’s legally-binding climate change commitments.

The government is unlikely to announce its decision on the mine until after global climate talks COP26, which will be held in Glasgow in November.