Last reviewed 7 January 2021
The Government has been accused of “rank hypocrisy” in the fight against the climate change, for allowing a new deep coal mine to go ahead in Whitehaven, Cumbria.
The coal mine proposal, put forward by West Cumbria Mining, was approved by Cumbria County Council in October 2020, but the Government told the council to hold off issuing permission until it had considered whether to “call in” the application.
Mike Starkie, Mayor of Whitehaven, said he has now been formally notified that the Government would not be calling it in, and the project could go ahead.
“In the letter I have received today following my support of the mining application, the Minister of State for Housing writes that the Government has decided that this a decision best taken locally – and I wholeheartedly agree.”
West Cumbria Mining says the mine is set to produce 2.78 million tonnes of coking coal a year for around 50 years. CEO, Mark Kirkbride, said he was “delighted” with the government’s decision.
“My team and I are now looking forward to concluding planning sign-off and then being able to commence preparatory steps to begin site work later this year”.
Trudy Harrison, Conservative MP for Copeland, described the government decision not to call in the applications as "fantastic news”.
"It is vital that this development goes ahead and I am pleased that common sense has prevailed." Coking coal is essential for the steel industry and this has been rightly recognised," she said.
The last operating deep coal mine in the UK was Kellingley colliery in North Yorkshire, which was closed in December 2015, partly in response to market forces favouring renewables and partly to phase out fossil fuel power in the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Plans for an opencast mine on the Northumberland coast were also rejected in 2020.
Woodhouse Colliery will be the first mine to be built in the UK in over 30 years. The mine head will be cited close to the former Haig Pit colliery and the redundant Marchon chemicals factory site above the town of Whitehaven. The mine could produce coal from a 77-square-mile (200 km2) section underneath the Irish Sea, just a few miles up the coast from the Sellafield nuclear waste storage site.
Concerns over the new coal mine are running high in Cumbria. Extinction Rebellion Cumbria along with local residents staged a "climate change crime scene" protest outside local government offices last October, when the council decided to approve the plans.
Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron, who asked for the proposal to be "called-in" described the government’s decision as "utter and rank hypocrisy”.
"Cumbria has so many renewable resources to provide energy — water, wind and solar — and we should most definitely not be taking the backwards step of opening a new coal mine," he told the BBC.
The decision to allow the coal mine to go ahead is likely to raise questions over the UK’s Net Zero emissions commitments in the run up to the crucial International Climate Summit (COP26), which the UK is hosting in Glasgow in November.