Fresh Controversy on West Cumbria Mine Plans as a Separate Project is Rejected
By Federica Bedendo
September 13, 2020 - The rejection of plans for a coal mine in the North of England have re-ignited hopes from environmental campaigners that the west Cumbria scheme would follow suit.
But supporters of the scheme to extract coking coal off the coast of St Bees, with a processing plant on the former Marchon site at Kells, have hit back pointing out the deep differences between the two proposals.
A decision on the £165m plan by West Cumbria Mining (WCM) is due to be made next month
A decision on the £165m plan by West Cumbria Mining (WCM) is due to be made next month by the county council, after a long-running saga of challenges and delays.
A spokesman for WCM said: "There is no similarity between the open cast mine plan which has been rejected in the North East and the WCM proposal. Unlike the rejected mine plan WCM will produce high grade metallurgical coal for the British and international steel industry at a brownfield site. The majority of its product will be exported to international markets where demand is forecast to remain high well into the future. Also, the rejected mine had been ‘called in’ by the Government due to its environmental impact and significant opposition which included local MPs. In the case of WCM Ministers have rejected calls to ‘call in’ the project and it enjoys the support of key Ministers, local MPs and local government leaders.”
Environmental campaigners including Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change SLACC have persistently opposed the plans by WCM and they believe that on the basis of the judgement made by Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, on the new coal mine at Druridge Bay in the North East, the WCM application should also be turned down. The basis of that view is a comment made by Mr Jenrick that “there is limited objective evidence that the demand for coal for industrial purposes will remain at current levels beyond the very short term".
Friends of the Earth regional campaigner Estelle Worthington said: "The Government’s decision on the Druridge open cast mine sends a powerful message to Cumbria councillors ahead of next month’s crucial decision on the UK's first new deep coal mine in three decades at the former Marchon site in Whitehaven, Cumbria.
“The Government has said there’s little evidence that we will need current levels of coal for industrial uses beyond the very short term. That seriously erodes the arguments put forward by West Cumbria Mining for the Marchon mine.
“New coal extraction has no place in a world facing a climate emergency. We urge Cumbria County Council’s Development and Control Committee to reject West Cumbria Mining’s proposal and instead seek opportunities for securing green jobs for the region.”
Maggie Mason, of SLACC, said: “Robert Jenrick’s judgement mirrors expert evidence we submitted from the Materials Processing Institute (MPI), the foremost consultancy on the UK steel industry. Contrary to WCM’s key claims, MPI shows that 'production of steel in the quality and quantity that is likely to be required by society will not require significant use of metallurgical coal in the coming decades' and 'demand in the UK and Europe is expected to decline considerably from 2030 onwards'."
“In addition to the lack of ongoing demand for the coal, WCM’s so called 'worst case scenario' hopelessly underestimates the greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed mine, even if the emissions from the use of the coal in steelmaking is ignored. The evidence before the Council shows that on the basis of current planning policy and Environmental Impact Regulations, the planning application should be refused.”
A spokesman for Cumbria County Council said: "The next scheduled meeting of the county council’s Development, Control and Regulation Committee is on Friday 2 October, where the revised application from West Cumbria Mining will be discussed. Further information regarding the outcome of this application will be available following this meeting."
Key political figures in west Cumbria have warned of the significant differences between mining projects.
It comes after the rejection of plans for a mine in the North East by Banks Mining, just weeks before a decision is due on plans by WCM.
Copeland MP Trudy Harrison said: "It’s important to understand the distinction between both proposals. Banks would have been mining for coal which was initially intended to go to English power stations – which are closing. It was not a mine for the high grade metallurgical coal used to make steel. WCM’s proposal is for a deep mine on a brownfield site. The Banks plan was for an opencast mine in a site without previous industrial activity. Therefore the comparisons being made are not accurate or relevant, we have national and international demand for coking coal for the steel industry and therefore WCM continues to have a very strong business case."
Mike Starkie, Mayor of Copeland, said he was not concerned about the consequences of the decision on the mine in the North East.
"The WCM application is going to be heard on its own merits. This rejection has no relevance whatsoever. That project had no community support and wasn't supported by MPs, it has no bearing or resonance with WMC plans."
Mark Jenkinson, MP for Workington, said: "Woodhouse Colliery is a completely different affair to Highthorn, which was a huge open cast with significant environmental impact which was wholly acknowledged by the inspector in the original enquiry and carries significant weight against when weighed in the balance.
"The UK has significant need for coking coal for steel and cement production for the foreseeable future, increasing in line with our plan for growth and our necessity to reach net-zero 2050. Steel and cement underpin every one of our low-carbon, renewable technologies, without exception. No matter how anyone tries to spin trials to create fossil-free steel, there is no viable commercial alternative that will significantly assist our route to net-zero 2050.
"UK production would significantly reduce carbon emissions, and anyone standing in the way of that UK production - or indeed conflates net-zero and absolute zero - puts at risk our shared aim of net-zero 2050."