UK to get first coal mine in decades after controversial plans approved in Cumbria

The UK Government has approved controversial plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria, which will become the first deep coal mine in the UK for more than 30 years.

The decision has been considered by Communities Secretary Michael Gove, who says he is satisfied that there is currently a UK and European market for the coal and that it is highly likely that a global demand would remain.

He said that he agreed with the recommendation of a planning inspector to approve the mine, on condition of an underground conveyor being constructed using a specific technique.

Mr Gove also stated that the proposed development would have an overall neutral effect on climate change and is thus consistent with government policies for meeting the challenge of climate change and the jobs provided by the proposed development would make a significant contribution to the local economy, both directly and due to a multiplier effect."

He did acknowledge that "substantial harm would occur to the character and appearance of the Pow Beck Valley."

A decision on whether to grant permission for the colliery near Whitehaven was originally due on or before 7 July but has been delayed three times.

West Cumbria Mining says the mine at Woodhouse Colliery will create at least 500 jobs, mostly for local people.

The site will be used to extract coking coal, used in the steel making industry, from under the Irish Sea.

West Cumbria Mining says the site will mine up to 3.1 million tonnes of coal per year.

Those in favour of the mine locally say the employment opportunities will provide a much needed economic boost to a deprived area of Whitehaven and reduce dependence on imported coal.

Opponents argue that any economic benefit is outweighed by the damaging impact of the mine on the climate. 

They also warn that the demand for coking coal for steel is declining and that most of the coal extracted from the Cumbrian mine would be exported and therefore not used in the UK steel industry.

Earlier this week former Government minister Alok Sharma, who led last year's global climate summit in Glasgow, echoed those views. In a post on social media, he said that opening the mine would be "a backward step" on climate action.

Workington's Mark Jenkinson responded, accusing his fellow Conservative MP of becoming "in hock to climate extremists".

How did we get here?

Haig Colliery, the last mine in Whitehaven, closed in 1986. It brought 700 years of mining around the west Cumbrian coast to an end.

Nearly three decades later, in 2014, plans for a new deep coal mine in Whitehaven were first revealed by West Cumbria Mining.

The proposal was approved by Cumbria County Council in October 2020, before the local authority reconsidered its decision the following February, in light of new information about the UK’s carbon emissions targets.

That led to the Government intervening in the plans and ordering a public inquiry. It lasted for one month last autumn, with views from speakers both for and against the mine considered.

Then in April, The Planning Inspectorate sent its completed report to the Communities Secretary, to consider the final decision.

This might not be the end of Cumbria's coal mine controversy, with environmentalists who oppose the decision considering legal action.