Whitehaven coalmine project under review

Barry White

The recent decision by Cumbria County Council to reconsider the proposed coalmine in the county has been welcomed by environmental campaigners, who have strongly opposed the mine. Last October the council granted planning permission for West Cumbria Mining to press ahead with plans for the UK’s first new deep coalmine in three decades, at Woodhouse Colliery, near Whitehaven. Much to the disappointment of campaigners, last month the communities and local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, decided not to “call in” the mine for the government to review the decision.

According to press reports the county council announced that new information on the government’s carbon budgets had forced a rethink. It is reported that the Committee on Climate Change, the government’s statutory advisers on achieving the UK’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050, raised serious concerns about the project. They published a letter written in late January from the chair of the committee, Lord Deben, urging Robert Jenrick asking him to consider the impacts, as the mine – permission for which has been granted up to 2049, the year before the government must achieve net zero emissions – would increase global greenhouse gas emissions.

Deben wrote: “it is also important to note that this decision gives a negative impression of the UK’s climate priorities in the year of Cop26.”

The proposed £165m mine would produce 2.7m tonnes a year of coking coal, for use in industrial applications such as steel-making, and not for burning in power stations. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, told MPs last month that this meant the mine should be allowed to go ahead, as it fell outside government pledges to phase out coal for electricity.

But green experts pointed out that steel-makers would be forced to reduce their emissions too under the UK’s net zero targets, by using new technology, such as hydrogen. About 85% of the coking coal from the mine was planned for export, and there is no shortage of such coal globally.

Earlier this month CPRE, the countryside charity, joined over 70 organisations to say to prime minister Johnson that plans for the new Whitehaven coal mine were unacceptable. The letter may be found at: https://www.cpre.org.uk/news/our-letter-to-the-prime-minister-on-cumbrian-coal-mine/

Meanwhile further details of the local campaign can be found at: https://slacc.org.uk/campaigns/cumbria-coal-mine/

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