west cumbria mining

Cumbria coal mine gets government approval despite climate change fears

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Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove has approved the opening of a new coking coal mine in Cumbria after months of objections from environmental campaigners.

The £165m project would see coking coal being extracted from the mine in order to be used in the production of steel, rather than electricity generation.

First proposed in January 2021, the government initially decided not to intervene in local planning decisions despite the fact that the mine’s approval would be antithetical to the UK’s climate change targets.

This controversial decision led to a strong backlash from environmental campaigners leading the government to put the project on pause while it reconsidered whether it would be allowed to go ahead or not.

But the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has now confirmed that the project can continue, saying it was “satisfied that there is currently a UK and European market for the coal”.

“The Secretary of State notes that many of those in opposition to the development expressed a view that there is no need for a new coal mine as existing global reserves can satisfy the demand for HVA coal,” DLUHC states in a letter approving the project.

While it admitted that there is “no consensus” on what future demand in the UK and Europe may be for coking coal, it said it was “highly likely” that a global demand would remain for the time being.

The Inspector responsible for assessing the project found that the development of the mine would not encourage the continued use of blast furnace production methods that would otherwise have been closed or converted to lower carbon technologies.

They added that there is no certainty in the pace that commercial alternatives to blast furnaces will be available to steel producers so it is likely that this production method will continue across the UK and Europe until “at least 2040 and possibly to 2050”.

In order to meet climate targets, the method could be combined with carbon capture and storage techniques so that it has neutral carbon emissions overall, the inspector added.

Campaigners Friends of the Earth (FotE) said that its lawyers would study the detail of the decision and would be considering what further actions to take.

FotE campaigner Tony Bosworth, said: “This is an appalling decision. Approving this mine is a misguided and deeply damaging mistake that flies in the face of all the evidence. The mine isn’t needed, will add to global climate emissions, and won’t replace Russian coal.

“Scientists are clear that new fossil fuel projects are not compatible with meeting global climate goals to limit warming to 1.5C.

“The market for this coal is rapidly disappearing as UK and European steelmakers recognise that green steel is the future, and this mine risks becoming an expensive stranded asset.

“West Cumbria deserves far better than this. Investing in cheap renewables and energy efficiency would put the region at the forefront of growing a clean, affordable and energy-secure future – creating thousands of green jobs and opportunities locally.”

“Last month’s decision to postpone an announcement on the mine now looks little more than a cynical ploy to try and avoid the embarrassment of approving it while the Prime Minister was trying to portray himself as a climate leader at the UN climate summit.”

Even some Conservative MPs have expressed doubts about the project, with former cabinet minister Alok Sharma among those who have said development on the mine should be blocked on climate change grounds.

He warned at the weekend that it would “not only be a backward step for UK climate action but also damage the UK’s hard-won international reputation”.

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