Cumbria County Council to reconsider coal mine decision

on 9th February 2021 Cumbria County Council acknowledged that the Council’s Development Control and Regulation (DC&R) Committee needs to reconsider their decision of the 2nd October 2020 before the final “Decision Notice” for the coal mine at Whitehaven is issued. There is little doubt that this reconsideration is a response to SLACCs lawyers sending “new” information to Cumbria CC about the 6th Carbon Budget and the implications of the Climate Change Committee’s unprecedented intervention . Richard Buxton Solicitors said , on SLACCs behalf, that:

We note that the CCC specifically concludes that:
• “The opening of a new deep coking coalmine in Cumbria will increase global emissions”, and
• “Coking coal use in steelmaking could be displaced completely by 2035, using a combination of hydrogen direct reduction and electric arc furnace technology to meet our recommendation that UK ore-based steelmaking be near-zero emissions by 2035.”

Both of these points directly contradict key conclusions on which the Officers Report relied. Where the Government’s expert advisory committee has expressed a clear opinion which contradicts the findings of the Council’s planning officer, we submit that reference back to Committee is clearly required to consider whether the conclusions on which the resolution to grant permission relied are valid.

As of Tuesday 9 February, we do not know the date for this reconsideration, but there is a scheduled DC&R Committee meeting on the 19th February, and the Agenda and documents would need to be published on the County Council this week. Previous objectors to the application may or may not be informed in advance, but whether the matter is considered on 19 February or the next meeting on the 8th April, opponents of the mine will be able to submit written objections, and it should be possible for some of us to appear in person (on zoom) at the Committee Meeting.

Long term followers of this saga will recognise the similarity with the October 2019 situation. We had requested a “call in” of the application following the first approval in March 2019, and the Secretary of State had decided not to “call in” the application. However because climate and steel policy had advanced in the interim, and some serious objections had been raised, the DC&R Committee was presented with the infamous Broadly Carbon Neutral Coal Mine” DC&R Committee Report by planning officers, and Councillors voted unanimously to approve the application. This does make us somewhat cynical about the most recent move.

However, we sincerely hope that officers will look afresh at the core assumptions behind their previous reports, and the likely environmental impacts of the mine, and recommend refusal of the application this time. The global situation has changed since this coal mine was conceived. The UK as COP26 host is calling for urgent cuts in carbon emissions from all nations, the volume of coking coal needed for steelmaking in the UK (and EU) will be falling significantly from 2030, and importing a few hundred thousand tonnes of coking coal a year for 10-15 years is not a significant issue. It does not justify the extraction of 2,600,000 tonnes a year of coking coal that the UK cannot use, and which would be exported to Europe or beyond. If Cumbria CC does decide to approve the application, these and other issues could all still be raised in a legal challenge.