Cumbrian coal mine decision due within days

Michael Gove must say no to “absolutely indefensible” mine
  Published:  01 Dec 2022    |      4 minute read

A decision on whether to grant planning permission for a controversial new coal mine in Cumbria is due on or before next Thursday (8 December).

Friends of the Earth is urging Communities Secretary Michael Gove, who will make the decision on whether to grant planning permission to the mine, to reject it.

A Planning Inquiry into the coal mine took place in September 2021, where Friends of the Earth was one of the two main parties opposing the application for planning permission – along with local campaign group SLACC (South Lakes Against Climate Change).

Earlier this year, Lord Deben, the chairman of the government's advisory body on climate change, branded the proposed new mine "absolutely indefensible."

A decision on the coal mine has already been postponed three times – the last time shortly before the start of last month’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt.

During the summit prime minister Rishi Sunak pledged to make the UK “a clean energy superpower”, warning that “keeping the 1.5 degrees commitment alive is vital to the future of our planet. More must be done.”

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

“Michael Gove cannot ignore the mountain of evidence stacked up against this mine. It will have a significant impact on the UK’s legally-binding climate targets, while the market for the mine’s coal is already starting to evaporate with the steel industry rapidly investing in green production.

“Areas like West Cumbria must be at the heart of a rapid transition to a green economy. This will help power our homes and industry and create the new jobs and opportunities that are so urgently required.”

Why the mine must be rejected:

1. Demand for coking coal is declining

Only a maximum of 13% of the coal will be used by the UK steel industry. Cumbria County Council reported (para 7.91) that one of the mine's two main customers (British Steel in Scunthorpe) has expressed doubts about whether it can use Cumbrian coal because of its sulphur content, and British Steel has said (Q73) that it is not lobbying for the mine . The mine’s other potential UK customer – Tata Steel in Port Talbot – has said that it wants to move away from coal use. Chris McDonald, CEO of the Materials Processing Institute (MPI – the UK’s national centre for steel industry research) has said that no-one in the steel industry is calling for the mine to be built. The remainder of the coal will be exported to steelmakers in mainland Europe. But analysis from Friends of the Earth shows that this market is declining before the mine has opened as European steelmakers decide to move away from coal to low carbon technologies. The International Energy Agency has stated that, if the world is to reach net zero by 2050, then no new coal mines are required: there is enough coal in mines already open to meet remaining demand.

2. The mine isn’t needed to replace Russian coal

Claims that the mine is needed to replace imported Russian coking coal are misleading. Steelmakers use a blend of coals with different characteristics to produce steel. In its evidence to the planning inquiry (page 410), West Cumbria Mining was clear that its target is replacing coal with similar characteristics from the US east coast. Even since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, West Cumbria Mining has not claimed that its coal would replace Russian coal, which has different characteristics. Chris McDonald of MPI has said that the mine would not displace a single tonne of Russian coking coal from the UK. UK Steel (the industry’s trade association) has confirmed (Q10) that no Russian coal is used anymore in UK steelworks and government statistics confirm (page 5) that no coking coal was imported from Russia between April and June.

3. The mine would increase carbon emissions and approval would damage the UK’s climate credibility

The Chair of the Climate Change Committee has written that opening the Cumbrian mine would increase global carbon emissions and has said that approving the mine would be “absolutely indefensible”. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that opening new fossil fuel infrastructure would be "moral and economic madness". And Alok Sharma, President of COP26, has also raised concerns about granting permission for the mine.

4. It isn’t the right way to create jobs

New fossil fuel extraction is not the right way to create jobs, and the declining demand for coking coal casts doubts over the mine’s medium and long-term prospects and the promised 500 jobs. Areas like West Cumbria should be at the forefront of government plans to transform our economy, create new jobs and build a cleaner future. According to the Local Government Association, there is potential for over 6,000 green jobs in Cumbria by 2030, in areas such as energy efficiency, solar power, offshore wind and low carbon heating. Almost 600 of these could be in Copeland, the area where the mine would be built. Alok Sharma, the COP26 President and a cabinet minister until last month, has said that "if this is about creating jobs, then, as the Local Government Association has said, you can create a lot more jobs doing this in green sectors." Recent analysis by Friends of the Earth has shown that a programme to cut energy bills by improving the energy efficiency of homes in West Cumbria could create as many jobs as the proposed mine.

5. Potentially significant landscape and visual Impacts from the two main mine sites

At the planning inquiry, Friends of the Earth’s expert witnesses demonstrated that the mine, and particularly the rail loading facility situated in the tranquil Pow Beck Valley, would cause a significant degree of harm to local character and significantly affect views from the Coast-to-Coast footpath and local paths. Overall, the mine’s landscape and visual impacts are unacceptable and therefore contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework (paragraphs 174a and b).

ENDS

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