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Public inquiry announced into plan for Cumbrian coal mine

A public inquiry is to be held into the controversial plan for a new coal mine near Whitehaven.

Posted on 12 March 2021

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick wrote to Cumbria County Council to say he has decided to “call in” the application, saying it raised issues of “more than local importance”.

A public inquiry would explore the arguments put forward by both supporters and opponents of the proposal by West Cumbria Mining.

The move has been welcomed by campaign group, Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole (KCCH) who brought a judicial review into the application two years ago.

Following the judicial review, campaigner Marianne Bennett claimed vindication after West Cumbrian Mining submitted a revised planning application.

Instead of 15 per cent of the mined produce being a type of non-metallurgical coal, known as “middlings” coal, the revised planning application was to only process premium metallurgical coal in a simplified, cheaper-to-construct mine proposed for the site of the former Marchon Chemical Works.

Following the announcement of a public inquiry into the proposed mining operation, Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith, who represented Marianne Bennett in her application for judicial review, said:

“This is extremely welcome news for the climate. However, if it had not been for the legal challenge brought by our client two years ago, which argued that the coal mine was incompatible with the Net Zero Target and forced the Council to think again, then construction would have already been underway by now. The Government should acknowledge this publicly and thank the campaign for what it has achieved.”

Marianne Bennett the founder of the nuclear safety group Radiation Free Lakeland whose Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole campaign was the first to call out this coal mine on nuclear and climate grounds said:

“The Government U-turn on a public inquiry is brilliant news, provided the inquiry also offers a further opportunity for the nuclear impacts of the proposal to be looked at again, given the development will take place under decades of Sellafield's radioactive wastes and just five miles from the world's riskiest nuclear waste site. We will be calling for that scrutiny to happen alongside the climate change issues.”

The public inquiry was announced after environment campaigners also warned that the go-ahead for the mine would have undermined the Government’s green credentials as it prepared to host the Cop26 international climate change summit in Glasgow later this year.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Tony Bosworth said it was “a startling, but very welcome U-turn by the Government”, reported Press Association.

He added: “Planning permission must be refused: ending coal use, whether for power generation or for industry, is crucial for facing down the climate emergency.

“It was not possible for the Government to maintain, as it claimed only two months ago, that this was just a matter of local importance and the decision will now rightly be taken at national level.”

The announcement came after the council said last month it would reconsider the application by West Cumbria Mining to mine for coking coal for use in steel production.

The move prompted the company to announce that it was lodging papers with the High Court to begin its own judicial review proceedings.

The application was first submitted in 2017 and had already been considered three times by the council’s planning committee without it reaching a final outcome.

Mr Jenrick said he had taken into account the latest recommendations of the Climate Change Committee for the sixth carbon budget which will set legal limits for emissions between 2033 and 2037.

His letter states: “The Secretary of State considers that this application raises planning issues of more than local importance, and further considers that the limbs of the call-in policy relating to potential conflict with national policies … and substantial cross-boundary or national controversy are satisfied.”

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Rowan Smith
Planning Wildlife

Rowan Smith

Rowan Smith is a solicitor in the human rights department.

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John Crowley
Planning Wildlife Prisons

John Crowley

John Crowley is a solicitor in the human rights department.

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