U.K. Intervenes in Planning Decision Over Cumbria Coal Mine


U.K. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick intervened in the planning decision over whether to build a controversial coal mine in Cumbria, northwest England, citing the need for a public inquiry about its potential climate impacts.

The decision was announced Thursday in a letter to Cumbria County Council posted on the website of Jenrick’s Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Jenrick is “calling in” the decision to be made by central government, rather than by local planning authorities as would be standard practice, it said.

Jenrick’s decision will snarl up planning for West Cumbria Mining Ltd.’s Woodhouse Colliery in Whitehaven, which has already been considered three times by the local council. The mine, which is now subject to litigation by opponents, has attracted criticism from environmentalists and the government’s own climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change.

The project would be the first new deep coal mine in the U.K. in three decades, and ministers have defended it as needed to produce coking coal for the steel industry, which would otherwise have to be sourced from abroad. But the CCC has warned that allowing it to go ahead would give “a negative impression of the U.K.’s climate priorities” in a year when it’s due to host a major round of United Nations climate talks.

Cumbria County Council supported the mine in October, a decision backed by Jenrick at the time. The council then bactracked, saying it needed to reconsider the proposal in the light of the latest advice from the CCC, which in December recommended a “carbon budget” for the U.K. that included an emissions reduction of 78% by 2035, relative to 1990 levels.

Jenrick’s department cited that as a reason for calling in the decision on the mine.

“The Climate Change Committee’s recommendations for the 6th Carbon Budget have been published since he was advised on this decision” in October, the letter said. “The Secretary of State recognizes that proponents and opponents take different positions on that matter, and considers that this should be explored during a public inquiry.”

Mark Jenkinson, a Conservative member of Parliament who represents the local area, accused the government of “a capitulation to climate alarmists.”

“The application would have created 500 well-paid jobs, a further 2,000 in the supply chain and significant further benefits to the local economy,” Jenkinson said. “I look forward to a public inquiry, where we can have a grown-up discussion around the importance of coking coal to steel-making and of how Lord Deben’s sixth carbon budget fully expects ongoing use of coking coal in steel-making, away from sensationalist tweets and headlines.”

The main opposition Labour Party welcomed Jenrick’s decision, while criticizing him for taking so long to make it. “The saga of this mine is a symptom of a government that isn’t serious about its climate ambitions,” Labour’s business spokesman, Ed Miliband, said in a statement. “The truth is that this mine is terrible for our fight against climate change, won’t help our steel industry and won’t create secure jobs.”

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