How will the public inquiry into the West Cumbria mine work?

A man walking his dog near Whitehaven in Cumbria. Approved plans for a new coal mine near the Cumbrian town will produce more emissions than any of the others currently open in the UK, a climate group has warned.

The Planning Secretary Robert Jenrick has called in controversial plans for a new deep coal mine near Whitehaven and decided they should be considered at a public inquiry.

That process will be run by the Planning Inspectorate, which is an agency at arm's length from the government that looks at many particularly important and high-profile planning applications.

We can expect a lead inspector and team to be appointed in the next few weeks. They will then set a date for the inquiry. I understand it should take place within the next few months.

They will ask interested parties to submit evidence, particularly around the extent to which the mine is consistent with the government's climate change policies.

The inquiry itself will probably last for a week or two, and we should expect the inspector and team to question the company behind the application (West Cumbria Mining), as well as Cumbria County Council, environmental campaigners and others.

Similar proceedings are currently being held over video link because of the pandemic and streamed live online for others to watch.

The inspector and team will then go away to consider their findings, probably for a period of a month or two, before making recommendations to the government.

The Planning Secretary will then ultimately decide whether the mine should go ahead. 

There are suspicions from some campaigners that the government has taken this approach in order to push this back until after the 'COP26' United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow in November.

I understand that the Planning Inspectorate process should be completed before then, but the Planning Secretary could then wait before making that final decision.

There have been many twists in this tale before, and there will be more to come.