The West Cumbria Coal Mine
One of the very first Labour MPs Thomas Richardson was a miner, who represented West Cumbria from 1910 – 1918. His father was killed in a pit explosion in 1885. Mining has a long ‘heritage’ in the area, both of disaster and of solidarity among a workforce constantly in danger. Do we need another coal mine?
What kind of mine?
This mine is for coking coal to make steel and would be mined under the sea near Whitehaven. It has been under discussion since 2017, and a coalition of campaigners including Friends of the Earth, South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) and Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole (KCCH) have opposed it from the beginning.
Coal is a fossil fuel, emitting CO2. As signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement the UK has to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But the developers, West Cumbria Mining (WCM) have persuaded Cumbrian politicians the mine won’t increase emissions, because the greenhouse gases it’ll emit will prevent, via market mechanisms, the greater emissions from the transport of coking coal currently sourced from America to the UK & EU. It will ‘substitute’ for them.
WCM also admits they want to mine here because the UK is a ‘high royalty’ and low wage regime. The 500 jobs they claim will come to West Cumbria has been naturally welcomed by all politicians. The area desperately needs jobs, but there is little mining expertise in the local workforce. Are these the right ones?
And our steel industry is in terminal decline, so there is little need in the UK for coal of the kind the mine would produce. Big progress is also being made on alternative steel production methods using renewables . And the strange argument about the ‘market’ seems to consider that the market for coking coal is predictable, a contradiction in terms because the whole idea of markets is that they can’t be predicted.
WCM have argued away the ‘end-use’ emissions, but campaigners calculate the project would release 9 million tonnes every year until 2050.
The campaign against the mine
In October 2020 the County Council decided in favour of a proposal which had undergone many revisions, this time due to threat of legal challenge by KCCH. Among other things it recognised the UK’s obligations for net zero by 2050, and shortened the mine’s lifetime to end on 31st December 2049. In its first application WCM wanted to operate until 2070 and it was subsequently shortened to 2050.
Opposition to the project grew thanks to energetic campaigning both locally and nationally and it has now gained international attention. Prior to the October decision the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick reserved the right to ‘call it in’ for Public Inquiry but he decided against, saying it was a local issue only. Pressure began to build with mass letter-writing and petitioning, and SLACC’s lawyers called on Jenrick to think again.
After the government cross-party Committee on Climate Change published its 6th Carbon Budget in December, its chair Lord Deben wrote to Jenrick suggesting he needed to think again if the Budget’s requirements were to be fulfilled . These Budgets set out, sector by sector, how reduced emissions can be achieved. Ahead of the UK hosting COP26, a swell of opinion was growing at home and abroad that this proposal would seriously undermine the UK’s credibility on climate change. In March Jenrick bowed to pressure and finally called it in.
The Public Inquiry
There will be a Public Inquiry in early September 2021 which will last 4-6 weeks. The proposal number is 4/17/9007 – this should be quoted in all correspondence.
The Inspector will be Stephen Normington, a senior professional planner, who will be hearing a range of arguments, for and against. He will then consider how the arguments weigh in planning / legal terms and make a report to the Secretary of State, who will then make a judgement based on this.
Both SLACC and FoE have legal representation at the Inquiry, as do WCM and Cumbria County Council. Their lawyers will be allowed to cross-question witnesses for WCM and Cumbria County Council and the two teams are working closely together. SLACC continues to crowd-fund to support their legal work . Do support them if you can.
If you already sent an objection to the Council (thank you!), your letter will be included in the material the Inspector considers. He has the whole file. The Council documents are here https://planning.cumbria.gov.uk/Planning/Display/4/17/9007
You now have the opportunity to update your letter with any evidence that has come to light since you wrote it – and it has to reach the Planning Inspectorate by May 6th 2021. Their address is INQUIRYDOCUMENTS4@PLANNINGINSPECTORATE.GOV.UK