West Cumbria Mining application to come back to committee on 2nd October 2020
Cumbria County Council's Development Control and Regulation committee (DC&R) voted unanimously to grant planning permission for the West Cumbria Mining planning application for an underground metallurgical coal mine on 19 March 2019. The decision was reaffirmed on 31 October 2019. A large part of the works involved in the application are in the area I represent.
I repeat that this was a unanimous vote. After being presented with an 188 page report giving details of two years of work looking to all aspects of this application, and hearing hours of presentations and representations, every Conservative councillor present, every Labour councillor, every Lib/Dem and the Independent councillor backed the application.
Since then the government spent some months considering a request from an MP on the other side of the county - who was, I am told by a colleague in that party, strongly rebuked by them for not consulting members of his party in West Cumbria before making it - to "call in" the application. They eventually decided that there were no grounds to do so.
There was then a court action by objectors seeking a judicial review of the decision. This action was dropped when the modifications to the application which are to about to come back to committee were submitted by the applicants. These modifications will be considered by the DC&R committee next Friday (2nd October 2020) at an online meeting.
The original application described the purpose of the proposal as being to mine "Metallurgical coal" which is also commonly known as ‘coking coal’ and is used in the process for the manufacture of steel. This would predominantly be mined from under the sea off St Bees and then brought to the surface for processing indoors, within a new facility located on the former Marchon site in Whitehaven. Processed coal would then be transferred by underground conveyor to trains using a new loading facility and sidings in the Pow Beck Valley, south of Mirehouse, in my division.
Under the original scheme it was expected that seven-eighths of the coal produced would be coking coal for the steel industry - with what amounts to a by-product of one eighth "middlings coal" for general use.
The main difference in the revised proposal is that West Cumbria Mining, on the basis of the further investigations and drilling they have done on the site, no longer think it will be necessary to produce "middlings" coal and are now proposing to concentrate entirely on coal for making steel.
If this application was for coal to burn to generate electricity I would not be supporting it. But you cannot currently run an advanced economy without steel, and we do not yet have an economic process to make steel without coking coal. Without steel you cannot make many of the things which our society desperately needs - including items like the wind turbines and hydro turbines required for our principal sources of renewable energy. At the moment the UK steel industry mostly uses coal strip-mined in the Appalachians and shipped a substantial fraction of the way round the world, doing far more damage the environment than mining it from under the sea off St Bees head would.
That argument applied to the original application. For those who object to burning coal for fuel to now object to the revisions to the application is utterly perverse. Cumbria County Council has already given planning permission for the mine.
If I had been an opponent of West Cumbria Mining's proposal, I would still be have supported the amendment on the basis that it removed the most objectionable element of a development which already has planning permission.
My actual opinion is rather stronger: what this amendment does is remove the one aspect of the proposal in respect of which their previous objections had any basis in reality.
Details of Friday's meeting including the officer's report and how to log on to watch and listen to it can be found on the County Council website here.