Stop the Mine!

Just when we thought the UK was finally moving away from coal, up pops West Cumbria Mining (WCM) with their proposal for a new mine at Woodhouse Colliery, Whitehaven, Cumbria. They plan to extract 2.43 million tonnes of coking coal per year and 0.35 million tonnes of middlings coal every year for 50 years. When used, this would emit around 420 million tonnes CO2 equivalent. This figure excludes emissions arising from the extraction process itself.

In this Climate Emergency we can permit no new fossil fuel extraction, whether for metallurgical or thermal use.

Timeline so far:

  • 31st May 2017: Original planning application lodged with Cumbria County Council (CCC) by West Cumbria Mining (WCM)
  • 10th December 2018: WCM submit a variation to the application.
  • 19th March 2019: Cumbria County Council (CCC) granted permission for the land-based portion of the development (unanimous decision).
  • October 2019: CCC decision was ratified
  • November 2019: Secretary of State (for Housing, Communities and Local government – SoS) decides not to ‘call-in’ CCC’s decision
  • 12th December 2019: “Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole” (Marianne Bennett) file application for Judicial Review of CCC’s decision.
  • 6th May 2020: WCM submit revised planning documents to CCC
  • 2nd October 2020: CCC once again grants planning permission, although no longer unanimous. However Robert Jenrick, (Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local government) intervenes: The decision may not be ratified until he has decided whether or not to ‘call in’ the decision
  • 6th January 2020: It became clear that Robert Jenrick has abdicated government responsibility for the mine’s emissions and refused to ‘call in’ the CCC decision.
  • Position at 13/01/21: It now remains for CCC and WCM to finalise their ‘Section 106’ agreement after which the on-land part of the mine will be able to go ahead. However South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACCtt) have found new evidence which they’re pressing CCC to consider, including that since CCC last considered the application, the UK’s Climate Change Committee has released the Sixth Carbon Budget, covering the period 2033-2037 under which the Whitehaven mine alone would exceed the available ‘space’ in the budget for the coal mining sub-sector. SLACCtt are also fund raising toward a possible judicial review (see ). There may also still be hurdles for WCM in getting permission for the under-sea part of the mine. This permission would be granted not by CCC, but by the Marine Management Organisation. So the fight continues!
  • 9th February 2021: CCC announce that they will review their decision in light of ‘new evidence’. Meanwhile the government continues to avoid all responsibility. Keep a close eye on CCC planning application 4/17/9007 and CCC meetings calender for developments
  • 11th March 2021: At last! Secretary of State Robert Jenrick ‘calls in’ the coal mine decision:
  • 7th September 2021: The public inquiry into the planning application opens. It is expected to last for 4 weeks, and can be viewed on the Planning Inspectorate’s YouTube page.
  • 15th September 2021: Following a cabinet reshuffle Michael Gove replaces Robert Jenrick as the Secretary of State with responsibility for the coal mine decision. Within days the department is renamed from ‘Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’ to the ‘Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ (LUHC)
  • 1st October 2021: Last day of the public enquiry hearings. The planning inspector says he will submit his report to Michael Gove in late December 2021 or early 2022
  • 6th July 2022: With just a day to go before the time limit expiry for Michael Gove’s decision, Boris Johnson fired him as the UK Government collapsed. The decision on the coal mine was formally postponed.
  • 7th July 2022: Greg Clark was appointed as the new Secretary of State for ‘Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’. Whether Mr. Clark survives in his new post through government turmoil long enough to announce his decision remains to be seen. A new time limit of 17th August was announced by LUHC
  • 7th December 2022: Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for ‘Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ announced the decision to allow the mine to go ahead
  • 23rd December 2022: South Lakes Action on Climate Change’s legal team sent a pre-action letter to Michael Gove
  • 13th January 2023: South Lakes Action on Climate Change [SLACC] and Friends of the Earth each lodged papers at the High Court in Manchester launching legal challenges to the UK government’s decision
  • 31 March 2023: Both FoE and SLACC claims were designated as significant planning cases by Mr Justice Holgate
  • 12th April 2023: Without a hearing, both claims were refused permission to proceed to trial by Mr Justice Cranston
  • April 2023: FoE and SLACC both exercise their right to a permission hearing, meaning they will seek to persuade the court to change its mind
  • 17th May 2023: High Court judge Mrs Justice Thornton DBE rules that the two legal challenges to the decision of the Secretary of State will go forward to a three-day hearing in the second half of this year
  • August 2023: Legal challenges postponed (had been planned for October): The High Court decided to await the outcome of a separate challenge before setting a new date. The legal case brought by campaigner Sarah Finch on behalf of the Weald Action Group, over the Horse Hill oil site was heard by five judges in the Supreme Court on 21 and 22 June. The Supreme Court is not expected to give its judgment until autumn 2023 at the earliest, so the High Court hearing on the Whitehaven mine may now not be until early 2024?

Why the coal mine is such a bad idea:

  • Scientists warn that almost all known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to have a chance of averting catastrophic climate breakdown. The development of this coal mine is incompatible with the UK’s legally binding obligations under the Paris Agreement, and with our survival as a species. NASA estimates on the trend of the last decade we will hit 1.5 degrees celsius of warming by 2025.
  • Cumbria is at significant risk from climate change, with many places projected to be underwater by 2050 due to annual coastal flooding. This includes Workington, Walney Island, Maryport, Barrow and the Solway Coast, among other places and is shown here: The increased emissions associated with the mine will contribute directly to this devastation.
  • Whitehaven needs and deserves quality jobs. But those jobs should be serving our joint local, national and international need for a liveable future. The government should match Whitehaven’s need for good jobs with the UK’s requirement for a vast workforce creating rapid change. We need massive expansion of renewable energy systems, building insulation, low carbon heating and public transportation etc.
  • Contrary to WCM’s claims, the mine will increase total global emissions. New, cheaper supplies of coal will not replace American coal; it will reduce the price of coal, and thus increase demand.
  • Steel can be, and is, made without coking coal. Continued investment in coking coal will lock us into this high-carbon technology and suppress the development of lower-carbon alternatives which are essential for the UK (and other European countries that WCM hope to supply) to meet their Paris Agreement commitments. Continuing with ‘Business as usual’ is not an option.
  • The majority shareholder of WCM, EMR Capital, is a private equity firm with an office in the Cayman Islands, an offshore tax haven. In its planning application WCM quotes 2 key reasons for developing a mine in West Cumbria: “Firstly the UK operates one of the most attractive royalty regimes when compared with the rest of the world. Secondly, salaries for miners are lower than for other countries”. In other words, this maximises profits but minimises workers’ wages; only 3% of the commodity value of the coal will be spent on wages.

Further information:

Articles & sources by date, most recent first: