Anniversary of Cumbrian mine decision: Govt urged to withdraw support

Press release
Case for coal mine rapidly evaporating
  Published:  07 Dec 2023    |      2 minute read

The case for a new coal mine in Cumbia is collapsing and the government should withdraw its support, Friends of the Earth said today, on the first anniversary of the government’s decision to give the highly controversial mine the green light. 

The call comes during crucial climate discussions in Dubai, where the international community is discussing ways to accelerate action to deal with the climate crisis.  

In a new briefing published today, ‘The disappearing market for Cumbrian Coal’, Friends of the Earth analyses the dwindling case for the coal mine, which was given the go-ahead on 7 December last year by Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove.  

The principal market for the coal, which would be used by the steel industry, was cited by its developer as “Northern, Southern, Western Europe and Turkey”, with UK customers due to buy 13 per cent of production.  

In his decision letter approving planning permission, Michael Gove said: “…it is clear that the European and UK steel industry is currently reliant on a supply of suitable metallurgical coal, and… whilst there is a prospect that this reliance may decrease in the UK and Europe over the lifetime of the development, the evidence suggests that there would still remain a market for the coal.” 

However, in the year since permission was granted:  

-   The owners of the UK’s four remaining coal-fired blast furnaces (Tata Steel and British Steel) have revealed plans to replace them with electric arc furnaces, which only use a tiny fraction of the coal. Indeed, the UK government has agreed to contribute £500 million of taxpayers’ money to fund Tata Steel’s conversion and is expected to provide similar support to British Steel. 

-   The European steel industry – the intended primary market for the 87% of coal not earmarked for the UK – is continuing to look to decarbonise its operations and could have no blast furnace steel production by the mid-2030s. 

Friends of the Earth, and local campaign group South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) are taking legal action to challenge the government’s decision to give the coal mine the go-ahead. A court hearing is due to take place in the new year.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the UK government to secure a long-term future for the UK steel industry that protects workers and creates long-term, sustainable jobs. 

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said:  

“A year ago, the government claimed that the Cumbria mine was needed to provide coal for the UK and EU steel industry for decades to come – but that market is now disappearing fast before construction of the mine has even started. Indeed, the rapid switch to green steel is being supported and funded by the same government that approved the mine.  

“This muddled government thinking has to stop. Ministers from every government department must accept that the steel industry is moving away from coal and withdraw support for this unnecessary and destructive mine. This would also help restore the UK’s global credibility on climate change.  

“Ministers should put areas like West Cumbria at the heart of a green industrial strategy, create new jobs and business opportunities and put the region at the forefront of building the cleaner future we urgently need.” 

*** Ends *** 

Notes to editors: 

1.  High Court agrees to hear coal mine legal challenge: 

 2. Briefing on Friends of the Earth’s legal challenge: tent goes here.