INDEPENDENT VIEW on the coal mine application.Substitution – 101 Issues. Say What?

October 2,2020 Meeting. Application 4/17/9007 – West Cumbria Mining. Reflections on the meeting and its outcome.

Notes by Ciara Shannon, EdenWorks.

The Development Control and Regulation Committee meeting, while disappointing, it was well chaired virtually by Geoff Cook and Paul Haggin did a good job in outlining different viewpoints on complex information. There were also public presentations from experts, locals and officials. 12 committee members voted in favour of granting planning permission to Woodhouse Colliery, three were against including the Chair and the Vice-Chair, two abstained, and one was unable to vote. This is slight progress from last year’s unanimous approval.

It is now over to Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to decide whether to call in the decision and make the final decision himself.

It was frustrating that the committee thought they had to choose 500 (or so) dirty jobs over no jobs at all. Yet, very few Councillors mentioned low carbon anything – never mind the vital importance of a low carbon future, nor the exciting opportunity of Cumbria taking the lead in showing the way. Plus, the bonanza bonus of thousands of new green jobs – which are already happening here & across the UK. 

Instead, it struck me that coal mining ‘back in the day’ thinking and a knowledge of those older style jobs and business models prevailed in the committee. More consideration should have been given to weighing up the project against new types of green jobs, the viability of the business models against the timelines of decarbonising technologies, processes and industrial innovations. For now and for future generations.

The meeting happened following legal challenges after the Council approved the project in March 2019. The purpose of the meeting was to approve the CCC’s planning conditions put in place to try and resolve 101 or so of issues. With one being to include a legally binding greenhouse gas assessment commitment as part of the Section 106 agreement. This is a first for such a project, alongside a production end date of no later than 2049 to recognise the transition to a net zero carbon economy over the coming decades.

I waited eagerly to hear about the substitution point and a clear explanation about the Council’s continued insistence that WCM’s coal will be a ‘benefit’ as it will substitute those of similar operations in the USA – resulting in CO2 savings from a shorter shipping route. Rather than this point being discussed in detail by Councillors, instead it was substituted by waffle. However, it was good to hear Prof Paul Ekins expert advice mentioned a few times that the proposed coal mine is in no way a substitution, as it will result in considerable additional global carbon emissions. Emissions that will hamper the development and deployment of low-carbon steel technologies.

There was also obfuscation on the level of sulphur (capped it would seem a few minutes before the meeting to 1.6% (as changes had been made to the notes as they said so themselves). A Councillor did ask a specific question about how much of the UK need for High Volatility A/ coking coal would the mine supply/replace. I was unable to fathom the correct answer as elements of coal are complex, and it will depend on the “specification”. What is clear it seems, is that WCM coal, even as restricted by a planning condition will likely have too much sulphur in it, and it will not substitute for High Volatility A coal from the US.

What is clear it seems, is that WCM coal, even as restricted by a planning condition will likely have too much sulphur in it for the UK market, and it will not substitute for High Volatility A coal from the US. All of this leads to further questions about the viability of WCM’s business model.

Councillor Alan McGuckin was the only Councillor to make mention of the substitution point when he summed up his voting rationale. Saying he supported the steel industry but voted against the proposal as the coal mine was not needed. He also said if it doesn’t substitute for the import of coking coal from the US it is “a disaster environmentally”.

If WCM goes ahead, the site work will start early next year (before spring 2021), with initial coal production starting ¬18-months from the start of construction. So, let’s say a start date of 2023 – 2049 of 9 million C02e each year, and this will equal to a whopping 234 million tonnes of CO2e. Climate timelines and emissions was discussed by Dr Henry Adams who strongly objected to permission being granted on behalf of South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC). You can read more details here.

Tim Farron MP gave a rousing presentation saying amendments made by WCM have been done because of the threat of legal issues and a judicial review. WCM’s claims that the mine will not make emissions any worse – are obviously false and WCM knows it. He also mentioned that Woodhouse Colliery undermines the Council’s own efforts for a Net Zero Cumbria and Councillors must consider the strength of Cumbria’s natural resources and its vast renewable energy potential.

Councillor Hillary Carrick summed up the meeting well when she said she found aspects of the project misleading and any application that has 101 issues to be resolved is of concern.

Following the meeting and to quote Jon Owen, Environment committee chair, Kendal Town Council. Lib Dem: “500,000 people live in Cumbria. Thousands of them put efforts in to reduce their carbon footprint, by flying & driving less, eating less meat, by recycling, by considering food miles. It feels like all that effort is wasted when 12 councillors can triple the county’s emissions.” 

By Ciara Shannon

(Ciara is independent to SLACC and she has recently got involved in objecting to the WCM coal mine, more so on the business case with Duncan Pollard and Associates. Part of this blog is also on a longer blog found at