Environmental Fury As Government Approves First New Coal Mine In 30 years

A general view of the former Woodhouse Colliery site where West Cumbria Mining have sought approval to once again extract coal.
A general view of the former Woodhouse Colliery site where West Cumbria Mining have sought approval to once again extract coal.

A general view of the former Woodhouse Colliery site where West Cumbria Mining have sought approval to once again extract coal.

Environmental groups have condemned the government’s decision to approve the first new coal mine in 30 years.

Levelling-up secretary Michael Gove granted planning permission for the site in Cumbria after years of delay from the government.

The approval comes after the UK urged other countries to “consign coal to history” as it hosted the COP26 climate summit last year.

The department for levelling up, housing and communities (DLUHC) said the coal from the mine near Whitehaven, to be known as Woodhouse Colliery, will be used for the production of steel and not for power generation.

The mine’s application says that nearly 2.8 million tonnes of coal will be extracted per year.

Friends of the Earth described it as an “appalling decision” that will damage the fight against the climate crisis while not replacing Russian coal.

Supporters of the coking coal mine on the edge of Whitehaven in Cumbria say it will create around 500 jobs.

Conservative peer Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee which advises the government, condemned the decision as undermining UK efforts to reach net zero.

“The UK’s hard-fought global influence on climate is diminished by today’s decision,” he said.

He said it also “sends entirely the wrong signal to other countries about the UK’s climate priorities”.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “Approving this mine is a misguided and deeply damaging mistake that flies in the face of all the evidence.

“The mine isn’t needed, will add to global climate emissions, and won’t replace Russian coal.”

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Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr said: “The UK government risks becoming a superpower in climate hypocrisy rather than climate leadership.

“How can we possibly expect other countries to rein in fossil fuel extraction when we’re building new coal mines here?”

Labour shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said it is “no solution to the energy crisis, it does not offer secure, long-term jobs, and it marks this government giving up on all pretence of climate leadership”.

“Waving this mine through further cements Rishi Sunak as an out of date fossil fuel PM in a renewable age,” the MP said.

The Liberal Democrats criticised the government for approving the “deeply damaging coal mine”.

Environment spokesman Tim Farron said: “This decision cancels out all the progress Britain has made on renewable energy. The government’s environmental credentials are yet again left in tatters.

“Rishi Sunak’s government is trashing our country’s reputation as a world lead in cutting emissions. He does not represent the views of the public who want green, clean projects.”

The planning inspector who recommended the site’s approval wrote that the development would “have an overall neutral effect on climate change”.

Stephen Normington said the amount of coal used in steel making would be “broadly the same” with or without the mine.

“Consequently, I consider that the proposed development would have a broadly neutral effect on the global release of GHG (greenhouse gas) from coal used in steel making whether or not end use emissions are taken into account,” he wrote.

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DLUHC said Gove “agreed to grant planning permission for a new metallurgical coal mine in Cumbria as recommended by the independent planning inspector”.

“This coal will be used for the production of steel and would otherwise need to be imported. It will not be used for power generation,” a statement read.

“The mine seeks to be net zero in its operations and is expected to contribute to local employment and the wider economy.”

Last year, Alok Sharma, UK president for COP26, told journalists: “I’ve been very clear that I want COP26 to be the COP where we consign coal power to history.”

The move also threatens to anger some Conservative MPs, who were opposing the mine.

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