Public inquiry to be held into Cumbria coal mine plans after government U-turn

·4-min read

A public inquiry will be held into plans for the UK's first deep coal mine in 30 years after a government U-turn.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has now decided to "call in" the controversial application for a new mine near Whitehaven, Cumbria.

The government previously chose not to intervene over Cumbria County Council's approval of the plan.

This was despite campaigners expressing environmental concerns and ministers being accused of hypocrisy as they focus on carbon-reducing efforts ahead of hosting the international COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow this year.

Mr Jenrick's change of mind has now been revealed in a letter from his department to the council.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote that Mr Jenrick had "decided to call this application in because of the further developments since his original decision".

The letter highlighted recent work by the Climate Change Committee, the UK's independent adviser on climate change, which has previously warned a new deep coking coal mine in Cumbria will increase global emissions.

"The secretary of state [Mr Jenrick] recognises that proponents and opponents take different positions on that matter, and considers that this should be explored during a public inquiry," the MHCLG letter added.

"Furthermore controversy about the application has increased.

"Overall the secretary of state considers that this application raises planning issues of more than local importance."

Ed Miliband, Labour's shadow business secretary, said that minister had "finally been forced to act" after months of pressure over the issue.

"The truth is that this mine is terrible for our fight against climate change, won't help our steel industry and won't create secure jobs," he said.

"The saga of this mine is a symptom of a government that isn't serious about its climate ambitions and refuses to invest at scale in a green future to provide the jobs that workers have a right to expect."

Lib Dem MP Tim Farron, who has been fighting against the application for a new mine in his neighbouring constituency, hailed the "fantastic news".

He said: "In the year that Britain hosts COP26, it is blindingly obvious that we won't be taken seriously on the world stage with this coal mine hanging round our neck.

"I hope this public inquiry leads to these plans finally being axed, and the government instead looks at bringing well-paid, long-term, green jobs to Cumbria."

Greenpeace UK's chief scientist, Doug Parr, said: "It should never have taken this long for the coal mine to be called in - the case for it was untenable from the start.

"But this is certainly fantastic news and definitely better late than never.

"The government may have just about saved its blushes, so long as the mine is canned.

"But with plans still to expand airports and a green homes programme left in ruins, there's a long way to go before Boris Johnson can truly have the full credibility required of a man hosting vital climate talks later this year."

Analysis: It beggars belief why things even got this far
By Lisa Holland, climate change correspondent

This is an embarrassing U-turn for the government and sends a clear signal that it has to walk the walk and not just talk the talk on the climate.

We knew that ahead of hosting the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November - and having set itself up as a world leader - the UK government couldn't just call on other countries to reduce their emissions then not expect scrutiny in its own back yard.

Failing to intervene over plans for a new coal mine was a saga that was never going to go away.

Even John Kerry, US President Joe Biden's new climate envoy, visiting London this week described coal as "the dirtiest fuel in the world".

Yet here was the government of the country he is visiting turning a blind eye to the cries of the green lobby that Cumbria's new mine had to be stopped in its tracks.

That blind eye came in the form of dismissing the row as a local issue.

It beggars belief why things even got this far.

Now the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick says the coal mine isn't a local issue after all and there will be a public inquiry.

What we're seeing is a powerful green lobby with wind beneath its wings perhaps for the first time ever.

Every step the government takes will be watched in case it's a foot wrong.

Every decision will be viewed through the prism of COP26 and what this government is or isn't doing to halt the climate emergency.