Government weeks away from deciding whether to open first deep coal mine in decades

The government is just weeks away from having to decide whether to open the nation's first deep coal mine in three decades.

The proposed Woodhouse Colliery near Whitehaven in Cumbria has been subject to years of wrangling and an increasingly bitter political row.

Now the Department for Levelling Up is due to make the decision on or before 8 November, which is two days into the high-profile COP27 UN climate change summit.

Gaile Stevens, councillor for Whitehaven South, is just one of many campaigners opposing it.

"It's wrong," she told Sky News. "The people of Cumbria, the people of Whitehaven deserve better than to be taken back into the past.

"At this point in terms of where the planet is, we need to be moving forward into renewables and into green energy solutions.

"Whitehaven should be making solar panels and finding new ways of doing things, but instead they're trying to sell the local people on the idea that there's money and there are jobs around coal."

Economic opportunity

Local mayor Mike Starkie can see only economic opportunity.

He points out that the coal from the new mine would be for steel making, a booming industry.

He told Sky News: "If we're going to go into renewables, which we all support and I would welcome any renewables coming into this borough… whether you want a nuclear reactor or solar panel, or a wind turbine, they all need substantial amounts of steel and the only way of manufacturing that steel is you need coking coal."

There are ways of making "green" steel with hydrogen, however the vast majority of what's manufactured requires coking coal.

But for Dave Cradduck, who comes from a proud family of miners, the issue is less about the science and more about common sense.

He said: "Our own source of energy is beneath our feet. You produce power from what you've got, not from somebody else transporting it there."

It is not clear how much of the coal would be for domestic use or export.

British steelmakers have questioned whether the coal from the new mine would be right for them.

It is just one of a whole series of thorny problems for government ministers to consider, who must weigh up the benefits of investing in marginalised communities and increasing energy independence with the fact that the UK is supposed to be a leader on climate change, and has been pushing other countries to stop using coal.

Climate change advisers say decision is unacceptable

The government's own climate change advisers have said that a decision to open a new coal mine would be unacceptable.

But a looming recession amidst a global energy crisis might change the calculation.

In the uncertainty of this political moment, anything is possible.