Environment

UK could approve Cumbria coal mine 5 months after pledging to phase out coal

If approved, 85 per cent of the coal produced would be exported, making the impact on the UK's energy independence minimal, according to government climate advisers.

Climate change protester's placard

The mine has faced strong opposition from climate campaigners. Image: Pixabay

Housing minister Michael Gove may approve plans to open a new coal mine in Cumbria as part of an “energy independence” push, reports suggest.

It comes just five months after the UK signed a declaration at COP26 pledging to “phase down” use of coal to meet climate targets, with COP26 minister Alok Sharma tearfully apologising at the time for the weak wording in the declaration. 

Woodhouse Colliery, if approved, would produce “coking coal”, which is an essential ingredient in the steelmaking process. 

The deep coal mine was first approved by councillors in Cumbria in October 2020, but the project was delayed after pressure from climate campaigners led to ministers launching an inquiry on the mine six months later. 

The Planning Inspectorate has now sent its final report on the mine to Gove, who has been asked to make a decision by July 7.

An unconfirmed report in The Telegraph on Monday cites “senior Tory sources” who say Gove is in favour of the plans, and may approve the mine ahead of the July 7 deadline.

The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) declined to comment on the reports, saying it would not be appropriate while the plan is being considered.

The mine has come back into focus following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Britain importing around 40 per cent of its coking coal from Russia prior to the invasion. 

These imports have now ceased – though reports suggest the steel industry has found alternative sources from countries like Canada and the US.

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The government’s climate change advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) have previously pointed out that 85 per cent of the coal produced at the mine would be exported, meaning that approval would have a negligible impact on the UK’s energy independence. 

The CCC also warned that opening the mine would be incompatible with the UK’s climate targets.

“The opening of a new deep coking coal mine in Cumbria will increase global emissions and have an appreciable impact on the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets,” it sad in an open letter published last year.

West Cumbria Mining, the company overseeing the project, has previously stated the mine will be a “net zero” operation thanks to use of carbon offsetting.

Last year, however, reports in The i newspaper suggested The Gold Standard Foundation, the carbon offsetting organisation the mine hoped to use, said coal mine projects stood against the company’s “core principles”. 

The mine has also faced strong local opposition, with the South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) Group teaming up with the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace to hand in a petition of 284,995 names opposing the mine.

At the time, SLACC representative Carole Wood said: “Michael Gove’s time at DEFRA gave him an unprecedented insight into the challenges that climate change is already bringing to communities in Cumbria and around the country. 

“There should be no new coal mines anywhere, and the UK government must show the way.”

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