Saturday, October 03, 2020

My speech in favour of the West Cumbria Mining application

I made the following speech at yesterday's DC&R meeting, in favour of the West Cumbria Mining application.

“Mr Chairman,

I am the county councillor representing the Egremont North & St Bees division of this council, one of two divisions in which parts of this application are located. Most of the mining will take place under the seabed near the St Bees part of my division, which also contains the site of the Rail Loading Facility to be built in the countryside south of the Whitehaven.

Representations from my constituents suggest that the overwhelming majority of them are strongly in favour of this application. St Bees parish council and the Mayors of Whitehaven and Copeland support the mine. Almost to a man and woman the people in the vicinity are in favour while the vast majority of the opposition comes from people who live well over an hour’s drive away, more than two hours by public transport, on the other side of the deepest lake and the highest mountain in England.

When the mine is in full operation after five years it is expected to provide 518 jobs and fifty apprenticeships in a community which this council’s figures suggest includes some of the worst pockets of deprivation in the country. Even if not all the jobs are filled by local people, as we are promised many of them will, spending will boost the local economy and supply chains, an uplift estimated on ONS multipliers to be worth another 380 jobs.

Mr Chairman, If I could slightly reword my next two paragraphs to respond to what you heard before lunch this isn't local people against the mine versus people in Australia for it, it's local people in West Cumbria for the mine against opponents who don’t live anywhere near, know about, or understand, the community where it is proposed. That was illustrated by the scaremongering about Sellafield. Anyone who's actually set foot in that facility knows that it makes Fort Knox look fragile, and the idea that buildings which took no harm from the recent planned demolition of four gigantic cooling towers onsite by blowing them up with explosives is going to suffer catastrophic failure from tremors from a deep mine eight kilometers away is not inherently credible.

Mr Chairman, it is important to emphasise that there is absolutely nothing in the revisions the committee is discussing today which would justify reversing the unanimous decision you made on 19th March 2019 after hearing hours of presentations and receiving a comprehensive 188 page report which was the product of nearly two years of work.

Even most of the objectors make no attempt to dispute that this country needs steel for a vast range of purposes including renewable energy facilities like wind turbines. At this time there is no economically viable way to make steel in a blast furnace without coking coal. Technologies to do so may be developed in the future but do not exist today. More than 85% of scrap steel in Europe is already recycled so there is limited scope to increase the 39% of steel demand which comes from recycling.

Therefore, Mr Chairman, this country will use steel. Most of that steel in the immediate future and possibly for decades, will be made with metallurgical coal. The day of coal to make steel is not over.

It is better for our people and the environment to make that steel in Britain and Europe with coal mined in an environmentally sensitive way from under the sea off my division and taken by rail to Redcar, Scunthorpe and Port Talbot, than to use steel made with coal from Russia and the USA, much of it strip-mined in the Appalachians and shipped across the Atlantic.

Can we know for certain what will happen to the level of coal production in the USA or Russia if this mine goes ahead? Of course not. But, Mr Chairman we do know for certain that demand from the British and European steel industry IS driving strip mining in the Appalachians and mining in Russia today; and that if this mine goes ahead, to the extent that the British steel industry buys coal from Cumbria instead, it will not be.

Finally, Mr Chairman, if you approve the officer recommendation today you will change three main things from the application you approved in March 2019.

The first will be to bring the legal agreement on the cycleway up to date what is possible given the negotiations with the landowner. This simply reflects reality.

The second is to add a condition limiting the output from the proposal of greenhouse gases.

The third and most significant is to remove the element of “middlings coal” representing an eighth of the proposed mine’s output which was not for metallurgical use.

Mr Chairman, I understand why objectors would want this council to use all our powers to fully monitor the promises made in this area and do our best to ensure that they are actually delivered. That would be sensible and we should do so.

What is perverse and self-defeating to the point of lunacy is for anyone calling themselves an environmental campaigner to object, not to the original application which this committee has already approved eighteen months ago but, as anyone asking you to vote against the recommendation is effectively doing, to object to the removal of the middlings coal element.

Finally, Mr Chairman, I asked last time if any changes to the conditions and the 106 agreement could come back to this committee. I thank the officers for doing that last year and ask that they continue to do so.

Thank you very much.”

Incidentally I took out two paragraphs at the last minute to fit in a response to the comments made earlier in the day in response to the suggestion that a few more deep mine workings the closest of which is eight kilometers from Sellafield, in an area which already has rather a lot of them, some closer than that to the nuclear plant, could pose a material increase in risk of a major incident. 

The paragraphs I took out, as being the most expendable part of the speech because it wasn't really a planning consideration, related to the 1984-85 miners strike when as a student Conservative activist I took a certain amount of flak from people from mining communities. 

There is an enormous irony in the fact that I was speaking on the same side as a National Union of Mineworkers representative yesterday (and agreed with every word he said!) 

Here are the two paragraphs I had been going to say but took out so as to be able to respond on Sellafield and keep within the five minute limit: 

"Mr Chairman, I have vivid memories from my youth of comments made by people from mining communities like Whitehaven during the 84-85 miners’ strike, who took a dim view of what they saw as affluent middle class people trying to deprive less fortunate communities, which they didn’t live anywhere near, know about, or understand, of much needed jobs on ideological grounds. 

I won’t quote those comments today – mostly they were not, Mr Chairman, in polite language - but listening to most of the objections today I felt more understanding for the feelings behind the comments made all those years ago than either I or the people who made them would have thought possible."

The one other thing I have to say about the application is that I am aware that members of the planning committee were subjected to a considerable amount of pressure from opponents of the application, including a barrage of emails and in some cases multiple phone calls, some of which were pretty close to the line of what sort of lobbying should be acceptable if not over it.

One councillor (who eventually abstained) referred to some of these calls said at the meeting, including one in which he had been asked how dare he even consider the application, to which he had replied, absolutely correctly,  that it was part of the job he was elected to carry out to do so. (and, I might add, his legal duty.)

I am grateful to the members of DC&R for taking the right decision and not giving way to the moral blackmail to which they were subjected by outsiders who neither share nor understand the wishes of the local community.


Gary Bullivant said...

A good speech underdermined only by failing to recognise that 100% of the coal is being sold to a broker for export, since British Steel and Tata are not interested in a product with such a high level of impurity. I expect this fact will not be lost on campaigners, who have geneourously been given time by Mr Jenrick to lobby Mr Sharma in his scond job as President of COP26.

Chris Whiteside said...

That's your view of what will happen to the coal and you are entitled to express your view, but I don't agree.

Gary Bullivant said...

OK, but it's also WCMs and British Steel's view as represented on the WCM website as of today and in the background papers published a few days before the meeting, where Javelin confirmed they are still in that commercial relationship with WCM. Of course, if you know something they are not telling the rest of us then you really should have been more open about it on Friday. Even Mayor Starkie describes this as an export led project.

Chris Whiteside said...

For the avoidance of doubt, the bit that I disagree with is not that a substantial proportion of the coal will be sold via Javelin, but that the share exported will be 100%.

And what I was saying was no different from what was in the officer report published a few days before the meeting.

Gary Bullivant said...

100% will be sold to Javelin on current plans. British Steel has no interest in it and Tata made no promises, but with Port Talbot looking to be coming under offer from China things are not looking good there either. Unless you think a few buckets to the Raty makes a difference, it's for export. Bottom line is that none would be going to Scunthorpe and Port Talbot so that leaves Redcar and Rotterdam for onward shipping to somewhere where high sulphur content doesn't matter.