Cumbria coal mine inquiry: all the developments from day one

A public inquiry is discussing plans for a coking coal mine in west Cumbria. Credit: West Cumbria Mining

A public inquiry into plans for a coal mine in west Cumbria began today.

West Cumbria Mining, which wants to open a mine for coking coal - used to make steel - near Whitehaven, has said the focus of inspectors should be on what the mine's specific effect will be locally in terms of both the environment and employment.

Opponents though have challenged this and pointed out the UK's commitments to move towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and have said this needs to be kept in mind when making any decision on a mine. They have also raised concerns about the effect a development would have on the local landscape.

The inquiry into the mine is being held online by The Planning Inspectorate.

This development was first proposed in 2014 and has been given planning approval by Cumbria County Council three times. Earlier this year, the Government announced that it was calling in the decision for a public inquiry.

Opening the case for West Cumbria Mining, Gregory Jones QC, argued that opponents were ignoring "an inconvenient truth" about the need for coking coal in the production of steel.

He told the inquiry:

He also said that climate change challenges were not in dispute but added that they cannnot be met overnight and that the planned mine could "contribute to that transition to net zero”.

Mr Jones QC added: “The objections to this mine amount to little more than emissions offshoring - ‘we won’t have to see it here, but we will still be relying on it, or steel that has been imported into this country, from a coal supplied by the US or elsewhere’. Focus of the inquiry rightly should be on the effects of this development and not hijacked into wider objections against the UK, EU and global steel industries.”

Mr Jones also argued that the planned development would create "a much-needed substantial economic benefit, local, regional and national level” with more than 500 new jobs and that the developer had committed to hiring the majority from the local population.

The case against the mine was opened by Paul Brown QC, on behalf of environmental group Friends of the Earth.

He told the inquiry the fundamental issue was that climate crisis was an "existential" threat.

Mr Brown QC said that most common means of creating steel from iron is via a blast furnace or blast oxygen furnace, which involves the combustion of fossil fuels such as coking coal, meaning the steel industry is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. He added that this needed to change if the UK was to meet its climate obligations.

He rejected the argument against considering the wider industry, arguing that coking coal was only mined "so that it can be burned".

Another part of his argument was that the UK steel industry was already supplied with coking coal from oversees mines. He also said that there would be an increasing need for "green steel", which would be produced without coking coal, meaning there would be no market for any Cumbrian coal beyond 2035.

Estelle Dehon, from the group South Lakes Action on Climate Change, questioned whether the coal would be used by the UK steel industry and doubted whether the target of 80 per cent of employees being from the local area could be met.

She added:

Both groups opposing the development also told the hearing that they had concerns about the impact it would have on the local landscape.

The protest in Whitehaven today. Credit: ITV Border

MPs have also been speaking at the hearing.

Mark Jenkinson, who represents Workington, former Northern Poewerhouse Minister Jake Berry and Copeland member Trudy Harrison all spoke in favour of the mine. All of them are Conservatives.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, spoke against.

A protest was held in Whitehaven this morning ahead of the protest, pictured above. A similar event also took place in London.

The hearing continues tomorrow and can be watched online here.