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Cumbria: Plans for UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years thrown into doubt after local council reconsiders application

Written by on 10 February 2021

Plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria have been thrown into doubt after the local authority said it would think again about the move following widespread criticism.

The local council had previously approved the application for the UK’s first deep coal mine operation in 30 years.

Government ministers had declined to intervene in the go-ahead for the mine on the basis it was a local decision.

Cumbria County Council said it would reconsider the planning application by West Cumbria Mining for the project near Whitehaven after new information had come to light.

A spokesperson said: “This decision has been taken because in December 2020, the Government’s Climate Change Committee released its report on its recommendations for the Sixth Carbon Budget, a requirement under the Climate Change Act.

“The report, among other things, sets out the volume of greenhouse gases the UK aims to emit during 2033-2037.

“This new information has been received prior to the issue of the formal decision notice on the application.

“In light of this the council has decided that the planning application should be reconsidered by the Development Control and Regulation (DC&R) Committee.”

Cumbrian MP and former Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron tweeted: “The very fact that this application is going back to the planning committee because it might not meet the requirements of the Climate Change Act shows exactly why this mine shouldn’t be going ahead.

“The government now need to step in, show some leadership and stop this mine.”

Meanwhile, youth activists have helped submit a 111,475-signature petition from the Coal Action Network to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), asking Secretary of State Robert Jenrick to stop the planned mine.

Elijah McKenzie-Jackson Image: Campaigner Elijah McKenzie-Jackson

Campaigners have criticised the assessment that the greenhouse gases of the mining operations will be carbon-neutral, as the coal would substitute for production elsewhere.

Elijah McKenzie-Jackson, 17, from London, who submitted the petition, said: “In the year where the UK hosts the Cop26 summit, the UK government must call in and refuse an application to mine coking coal, showing its commitment to decarbonising the steel sector.”

Isabella Bridgman, 16, from Cockermouth in Cumbria, said: “I call on the secretary of state to call in this mine, in recognition that approving such a mine when the UK is set to host Cop26 this year, and has committed to reach carbon neutral by 2050, is not only ridiculous, but actively harmful.”

Analysis: A shockingly embarrassing episode for the government

By Lisa Holland, climate change correspondent

It was surely a matter of time before the foundations under plans for a new coal mine off the Cumbrian coast started to seriously erode.

But it’s not because the government is taking a clear stand on the climate emergency. And therein lies the problem.

The government had batted this boiling hot potato back to the county council saying it was a ‘local issue’ whether or not the planning application for the coal mine goes ahead.

That act failed to stop the avalanche of criticism against the communities secretary for refusing to intervene when he had the power to sink the hugely controversial project off the coast of Whitehaven faster than a gunship.

The council’s announcement now may signal the beginning of the end for the mine – but it doesn’t erase a shockingly embarrassing episode for the government.

Remember this is a government which is touting itself around as a world leader on the climate in the year it’s hosting the critical COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

It’s hard to really understand why the government let this whole issue slide when the arguments against the mine don’t stack up.

Environmentalists say all coal must stay in the ground if the use of climate-damaging fossil fuels is to be truly broken and coal from already open mines used up first even if that incurs emissions transporting them from abroad.

Cumbria County Council may have been startled at the amount of attention its planning process received.

One local official who supports the mine because of the jobs it will create furiously told me within minutes of the announcement the council had ‘bottled it’.

The government may have dismissed the Cumbrian mine as a local issue but in the end that was far from the case.

Cumbria County Council cites targets by the Committee on Climate Change to reduce emissions in the UK – what’s known as the sixth carbon budget announced last December – as ‘new information’ which influenced its decision to reconsider.

This can scarcely be credible when the UK declared a climate emergency nearly two years ago.

The suspicion will be that the council ran scared of the scrutiny it was under.

This whole saga fires a warning shot to other architects of projects which are detrimental to the climate, whatever the benefit to jobs locally.

In this year of the COP, absolutely everything will have a mirror held up to it and the voices of environmental campaigners are now being heard.

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