High Court agrees to hear coal mine legal challenge

South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) today (17th May) welcomed a ruling from High Court judge Mrs Justice Thornton DBE, which means that the two legal challenges to the decision of the Secretary of State to grant permission for a new coal mine at Whitehaven, Cumbria will go forward to a three-day hearing in the second half of this year. 

This is in place of the Hearing that had been planned for next Tuesday, 23rd May, at which  SLACC and Friends of the Earth (FoE), the two charities involved in the Public Inquiry in 2021, were going to renew their request to challenge Michael Gove’s decision to approve the mine.

Having considered the documents submitted by all the parties in advance of the Hearing planned for next Tuesday, the Court cancelled the Hearing and gave permission for SLACC and FOE to present their case at a future ‘rolled-up’ hearing, where the application for permission and the substance of the Claimants’ statutory review will be heard simultaneously.

The case will be heard after the landmark Supreme Court challenge brought by Sarah Finch concerning oil drilling at Horse Hill in Surrey, which is scheduled for 21 June.

A key issue in that case is whether the greenhouse gases from burning oil should be taken into account when assessing the environmental harms from their extraction, and the Office of Environmental Protection has been given permission to intervene in the case.

West Cumbria Mining, the company behind the Whitehaven Mine have also been given permission to intervene, presumably because of the parallels with the use of coal in blast furnaces.

Maggie Mason of SLACC said: 

“This is a positive and sensible decision, which reflects the complexity and importance of the issues that need to be determined in the Whitehaven case, but which might also allow a rational and consistent process.

We look forward to a full hearing of our case, including that the Secretary of State failed to properly take into account the climate impacts of the mine and the international implications of this decision, and that the Inspector did not fairly consider the evidence as he should have.  

SLACC members and supporters continue to pursue this issue because the climate and ecological impacts of using coal, (and other fossil fuels) are increasingly rapidly, and permitting new extraction that would continue until 2050 is madness “

SLACC and FoE launched their legal challenges in January after the Secretary of State controversially granted planning permission for the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years, following a month long planning inquiry which took place in September 2021. Permission was granted notwithstanding significant concerns raised by leading climate experts at the inquiry that the mine would add to global emissions at a time dramatic reduction was necessary, and would permanently damage the UK’s climate leadership credentials, all as the UK held the COP26 presidency.  

SLACC and FoE contend that in permitting the proposed mine, the Secretary of State failed to account for the significant climate impacts of the mine, including the acceptability of carbon credits to offset the mine’s emissions, the international precedent that opening a new mine would set, and the impact of opening the mine on the global coal market.

For media enquiries with South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) please contact Maggie Mason at slaclimatechange@googlemail.com or by calling 07551 180221.

Notes to editors:

1. The court’s guidance explains the process for the High Court permission hearing (paras 9.4 to 9.6) and for the process for a ‘rolled up hearing’ (para 

2. Read a short summary of SLACC’s case.

3. View a Friends of the Earth briefing on its legal challenge.

4. SLACC is represented on this case by Matthew McFeeley of Richard Buxton Solicitors and by Estelle Dehon KC and Rowan Clapp of Cornerstone Barristers.