Friday, November 01, 2019

West Cumbria Mining gets the go-ahead

Great news for West Cumbria as the government announces that the West Cumbria Mining application, unanimously approved earlier this week by councillors of all parties on Cumbria County Council's Development Control committee and ratified again yesterday, will not be called in.

This means that the development of a mine to extract metallurgical coal for the steel industry can go ahead, providing 500 badly needed jobs in Copeland.

This is about getting coking coal which is needed to produce steel locally in Britain rather than strip-mining it in the USA and shipping it over the Atlantic. This is NOT about coal to burn for energy, and indeed, because the coal will be sourced locally rather than carried a significant proportion of the way round the world, it will have a LOWER carbon footprint.

If Lib/Dem MP Tim Farron, who tried to get the mine "called in" and stopped, does not understand this then he doesn't listen to his own local Lib/Dem county councillors, including the chairman of the committee, who all voted for the application and could have explained to him why it should go ahead.

Copeland's Conservative MP Trudy Harrison said

“This is fantastic news. It is vital that this development goes ahead and I am pleased that common sense has prevailed. Woodhouse colliery has been recognised for its importance to the steel industry and to UK export."

“Coking coal is essential for the steel industry and this has been rightly recognised.”


I want to add to the above post that when the County Council's development control committee discussed the West Cumbria Mining application on Thursday 31st October and ratified their decision to support the grant of planning permission for the mine, they did so on the following basis:

1) That there would be an addendum to the original wording in respect of the Section 106 agreement adding an obligation on West Cumbria Mining to pay for improvements to the St Bees Road/Mirehouse Road junction.

2) The conditions under which planning permission should be granted from the original committee report (there were a hundred of them) still stand.

The report to the committee meeting on 31st October, which anyone can read on the County Council website here, proposes that the original planning condition stand, with the following additional text about the road junction:

"We have also taken the opportunity to propose adding an obligation to the S106 Agreement for a financial contribution to the Council to ensure that works to the access with the junction with the public highway and necessary improvements to the Mirehouse Road / St Bees Road junction are carried out. 

The works are necessary to ensure the safe access and egress to the site and at the Mirehouse Road / St Bees Road junction and this has been agreed with West Cumbria Mining."

This was agreed by the committee on Thursday.


Gary Bullivant said...

Coming as it has now, having been in place for months without a public announcement, the release of the holding direction will be no doubt be interpreted in the light of the fracking suspension decision and the urgent need of the Conservative Party to engage the sympathies of the Copeland Urban Electorate in this now marginal seat. For the company now comes the really interesting bit; finding legitimate funding for their speculative venture and clearing those pesky conditions so that onshore building work can actually start.

Chris Whiteside said...

I shall be writing a separate post about the fracking decision. The two decisions are not related - Fracking was about oil to be used as energy and the West Cumbria Mining proposal is about coking coal to be used in the steel industry.

If by "clearing those pesky conditions" you mean meeting them, that's fine. If you or anyone else imagine that the conditions are going to be dropped or ignored, forget it.

Those conditions - a hundred of them - were agreed by the committee and as I understand it, by West Cumbria Mining, who certainly didn't object to them at the meeting, for very good reasons. Those conditions are necessary to protect the environment enjoyed by my constituents.

The committee discussed the planning application again on 31st October and ratified their decision to approve the application, including the original conditions, with an addendum clarifying the junction improvements required under the Section 106 agreement at the St Bees Road, Mirehouse Road junction. The published report says that the required work on this junction was agreed with West Cumbria Mining.

Gary Bullivant said...

For my part I expect those conditions to be cleared by meeting them but there is nothing stopping the company from applying to have any that prove to be insurmountable adjusted or removed at any time. Given this procedural reality it is not surprising that the company agreed to the conditions at the meeting; they had no incentive to do otherwise since it would have informed their opponents. They had, as the officers' report shows, already asked the officers to remove the one condition that really puts the viability of the project at risk; that's the one that sets the measure of what constitutes coking coal in terms of its three key chemical qualities. It will be interesting to see how the quite specific requirements to produce only metallurgical coal and to generate no more than 15% middlings coal when processing it is implemented, monitored and enforced.

As for the decisions on fracking and the decision to lift the direction on CCC, both were related to the dissolving of parliament and the upcoming election as you know. It would be interesting to read why the Government kept the latter, which I only picked up on after the meeting brief was published the week before, in place for so long if the balance in favour is so clear cut.

Chris Whiteside said...

The applicant can apply to waive or vary a condition, but I would hope and expect that they would have to have a very good case and an alternative means of meeting the concerns which led to that particular condition being imposed before CCC would agree.

I specifically asked at the meeting which originally approved the application that the implementation of the conditions should come back to the committee so that there would be transparency on the enforcement of the conditions and to ensure that it is taken seriously.

If you want to be cynical you can accuse any government or opposition party of taking any decision or adopting any policy because there is an election coming up - it is impossible to prove or disprove such statements.

However, the fact that you can make the same such allegation about two different decisions does not prove that those decisions are related in any other way.

As for fracking, it was banned on the same day that new scientific evidence was published indicating that it is much more difficult than had previously been thought to safely predict the earthquake risk from fracking.

Gary Bullivant said...

Having to return to the Committee with a completed checklist is a splendid idea, so well done. Of course some rather more "hands on" checking of the coal qualities and quantities will be necessary before the chaps at Javelin Global Commodities are allowed to let consignments into the market. That sort of thing will no doubt be explained at the relevant committee meeting.

I think the evidence for the lifting of the WCM decision directive would convince even the most open minded constituent that Mrs Harrison felt justifiably concerned that it's existence had become widely known after the officer's report. Sufficiently concerned to have it lifted in time for her doorstep campaign I'd say.

Chris Whiteside said...

She had been asking ministers to have it lifted for months, and both she and I would very much prefer it had been lifted a long time ago. But better late than never.

Gary Bullivant said...

I've come back to this issue because it has just come back through my email in box! As you probably know, the company has decided to remove middlings from the application by increasing the efficacy of their benefication process. Somehow, I can't work out from what they have written exactly how, they intend to extract more of the impurities from the run of mine than they originally planned but not use more power and water doing it. They are also asking to remove the limitation on use for steelmaking and to increase the ash and sulphur tolerances of what constitutes metallurgical coal. As discussed in our exchange above, they are within their rights to do so so long as they successfully justify it, of course. Anyway, another decision date for the Committee and an opportunity to address those issues that would have come up at the Judicial Review.

Chris Whiteside said...

Apologies for the delay noticing that, because of the age of the post it is a comment on, the comment above went into the "awaiting moderation" queue.

I approved it for publication as soon as I noticed it.

New thread on this issue today (25th May)