Environmental campaigners have hailed an eleventh hour U-turn on a controversial application for a new coal mine on the Cumbrian coast.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has intervened and ordered a public inquiry into the construction of Woodhouse Colliery, Britain’s first new deep coal mine in over 30 years.
Northern Tory MPs had banked on the project to bring much-needed jobs and investment to the region.
But climate change activists said the Copeland mine would guarantee the Prime Minister ‘ignominy and humiliation [for] contemptuous disregard of the future of young people and nature’.
Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said the mine would be ‘terrible for our fight against climate change’ while Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron said allowing the mine to go ahead would be would be ‘an almighty backwards step’ in the fight against climate change.
Workington MP Mark Jenkinson has now accused ministers of a ‘capitulation to climate change alarmists’.
Britain’s first new deep coal mine in over 30 years is situated in the Cumbrian constituency of Copeland. Pictured: An artist’s impression of the Woodhouse Colliery
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has intervened and ordered a public inquiry into the construction of Woodhouse Colliery
Ed Miliband told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the Copeland mine should be ‘stopped’ and that ‘alternatives’ should be adopted
Alok Sharma, the former business secretary now charged with full-time leadership of the UN climate change event in Glasgow, is widely reported to be ‘apoplectic’ about Jenrick’s initial decision to let the Copeland coal mine go ahead
What is coking coal?
The coal is ‘baked’ in a coke oven which forces out impurities to produce coke, which is a form of almost pure carbon.
Modern steel plants, the likes of which are predominantly found in the UK and Europe, include extensive gas treatment and capture to significantly reduce emissions.
The steel that is produced is used in a wide range of domestic uses (e.g. cars, kettles, trains) as well as in the manufacture of wind turbines and nuclear power stations, key alternatives to historical coal-powered energy generation.
Coking coal for steel is very different to thermal coal which is used to create steam to power turbines for creating electricity.
Following a government change in policy in early 2018, all coal fired power generation in the UK will end by October 2025 and as such will no longer form part of the UK power source in the very near future.
West Cumbria coals are known to be high volatile, hard coking coal.
The quality of the metallurgical coal that Woodhouse Colliery will produce is equivalent to premium US High Volatile ‘A’ coal.
Exploration results from the area lead us to believe that we can extract high quality ‘hard’ metallurgical coal which will be highly regarded by steel manufacturers.
West Cumbria Mining (WCM) wants to extract around 2.5 million tonnes of coal a year to supply UK and European steel-making coal plants, which currently import around 45 million tonnes a year from the USA, Canada, Russia and Australia.
The proposed site is next to the location of a former colliery in Whitehaven that shut three decades ago.
The new mine in the Cumbrian constituency of Copeland is not for ‘thermal’ use in power stations.
It is coking coal, for indispensable use in the blast furnaces of the British steel industry.
One tonne of such coal is required for the production of every 1.25 tonnes of steel — and, as yet, there is no economically viable alternative.
But the Prime Minister has declared his commitment to making Britain ‘the Saudi Arabia’ of wind power, as part of the plan to make our entire electricity network ‘net-zero carbon’ by 2050.
The PM’s father, 80-year-old Stanley, last month denounced the Government’s decision not to block the construction of the mine, calling it ‘a massive mistake.’
He added: ‘How can we ask other countries to bring in their climate change reduction programmes when we are reopening the whole coal argument here?’
Mayor of Copeland, Mike Starkie, said the mine will generate at least 500 jobs in a part of the country that has suffered more than most from deindustrialisation.
But American scientist Dr James Hansen, dubbed ‘the father of climate change awareness’ last month published an open letter to Boris Johnson declaring the Copeland mine would guarantee the PM ‘ignominy and humiliation [for] contemptuous disregard of the future of young people and nature’.
The secretary of state responsible for planning decisions, Robert Jenrick, previously decided not to challenge the local approval for the Copeland mine.
The decision angered Alok Sharma, the former business secretary, who was reported to be ‘apoplectic’ about Jenrick’s decision to let the Copeland coal mine go ahead.
But Mr Jenrick has now made a u-turn and ordered an inquiry.
In a letter to Cumbria County Council, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said Mr Jenrick believed the application had raised issues of ‘more than local importance’.
Mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie (left) and Dr James Hansen (right)
It said he had decided that a public inquiry should be held to explore the arguments put forward by both supporters and opponents of the proposal by WCM to open the deep mine near Whitehaven.
It follows intense pressure by scientists and campaigners who warned it would undermine the Government’s hopes of progress when it hosts the international Cop26 climate change talks in Glasgow later this year.
Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Tony Bosworth said it was ‘a startling, but very welcome U-turn’ after ministers had previously resisted calls to intervene in the application.
‘It was not possible for the Government to maintain, as it claimed only two months ago, that this was just a matter of local importance and the decision will now rightly be taken at national level,’ he said.
However the decision is likely to dismay some northern Tory MPs who were banking on the project to generate jobs and investment.
Workington MP Mark Jenkinson accused ministers of a ‘capitulation to climate change alarmists’.
‘This represents a risk to significant private sector investment in Cumbria and the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda,’ he said.
The announcement came after the council said last month it would reconsider the application by WCM to mine for coking coal for use in steel production.
The move prompted the company to declare last week that it was lodging papers with the High Court to commence judicial review proceedings.
In its letter, the MHCLG noted the application had first been submitted in 2017 and had already been considered three times by the council’s planning committee without it reaching a final outcome.
It said that in taking his decision, Mr Jenrick had taken into account the latest recommendations of the Climate Change Committee for the sixth carbon budget which will set legal limits for emissions between 2033 and 2037.
‘The Secretary of State recognises that proponents and opponents take different positions on that matter, and considers that this should be explored during a public inquiry. Furthermore controversy about the application has increased,’ the letter said.
‘Overall the Secretary of State considers that this application raises planning issues of more than local importance, and further considers that the limbs of the call-in policy relating to potential conflict with national policies … and substantial cross-boundary or national controversy are satisfied.’
For Labour, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said ministers had been forced to act following months of pressure.
‘The truth is that this mine is terrible for our fight against climate change, won’t help our steel industry and won’t create secure jobs,’ he said.
‘The saga of this mine is a symptom of a Government that isn’t serious about its climate ambitions and refuses to invest at scale in a green future to provide the jobs that workers have a right to expect.’
Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Tim Farron said allowing the mine to go ahead would be would be ‘an almighty backwards step’ in the fight against climate change.
‘I hope this public inquiry leads to these plans finally being axed,’ he said.