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Cumbria coal mine: Government promises public inquiry after backlash

Plans for the controversial Cumbria coal mine at Woodhouse Colliery have been put on hold after an intervention from the Westminster Government.

West Cumbria coal mine plans

An computer-generated impression of the finished coal mine in Whitehaven, on the west Cumbrian coast. Image: West Cumbria Mining

Climate crisis campaigners have praised ministers for “walking the walk” on green issues ahead of this year’s COP26 conference after the UK Government announced plans to intervene in the coal mine controversy in Cumbria.

The ongoing row between Cumbria County Council and green activists over the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years at Woodhouse Colliery near Whitehaven means the plans are to be reconsidered for a fourth time.

The dispute is threatening to become a blemish on Westminster’s green plans ahead of the United Nations climate change conference due to be held in Glasgow in November.

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In a letter to Cumbria City Council from an unnamed civil servant on behalf of Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, the government announced plans to “call in” the planning application via a public inquiry.

The letter read: “The Government places a strong emphasis on localism and decentralisation, and the general approach of the Secretary of State is, therefore, not to interfere with the decision-making process of democratically elected local councils on planning matters.”

But with rising controversy the Secretary of State has decided to intervene as “this application raises planning issues of more than local importance”.

The differing positions on the matter mean they “should be explored during a public inquiry”, the letter concluded.

West Cumbria Mining laid out plans to invest £14.7 million in finding high quality coking coal, which is exclusively used in steel production, as far back as 2014 with the first planning permission submitted to the local council in May 2017.

The local authority has approved the planning application on three occasions but is now reconsidering for a fourth time.

A Cumbria County Council spokesperson said: “The council received a letter from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government yesterday informing us that the Secretary of State has decided to ‘call-in’ the planning application submitted by West Cumbria Mining Ltd and to hold a public inquiry. The council is now considering the details and preparing for the public inquiry process.”

If approved, the coal mine would create 500 new jobs for locals, according to West Cumbria Mining.

Tom Fyans, director of campaign and policy at CPRE, the countryside charity, welcomed Jenrick’s “change of heart” to get intervene in a bid to break the deadlock.

He said: “It’s great to see the government finally showing decisive leadership on the environment. Ahead of COP26 and with the looming threat of the climate emergency, we hope that this is the first of many decisions that show government can walk the walk, not just talk the talk. 

“We must prioritise clean, green industries and build back better. We now hope the government focuses on creating genuinely sustainable jobs for West Cumbria, but for now, this is a victory for common sense and local campaigning.”

South Lakes MP and former Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron has also urged the plans to be axed.

He said: “In the year that Britain hosts COP26, it is blindingly obviously that we won’t be taken seriously on the world stage with this coal mine hanging round our neck.

“I hope this public inquiry leads to these plans finally being axed, and the Government instead looks at bringing well-paid, long-term, green jobs to Cumbria.”

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