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.


Gary Bullivant said…
Three points spring to mind after reading this one. Firstly, that approval has, and will be, not only subject to conditions but conditional on a legal agreement. I don't really understand why, with all that spare time given to them, the legal agreement is not in place awaiting the decision but there we are.

You do Ms Birkby a diservice by not acknowledging that this revision was in response to her, quite legitimate, actions. There was no more site drilling to draw on and the timing and extent of the process revision is clear from the supporting documents. These contain a letter dated 7 May 2020 that anyone with commercial experience will be able to interpret for themselves. The question we should be asking ourselves is do we believe them?

Finally, having drawn your attention to those supporting documents, can I recommend you look at them again carefully? They aren't exactly definitive as to what consitututes High Vol A coal but from my quick online research they seem to have missed that a requirement is for sulphur content of much less than 1%. I'm grateful to officers for making them available to the public as well as to Councillors, particularly the WA and Javelin reports and the explanatory emails.
Chris Whiteside said…
I wasn't naming names because I did not want this to become personal.

If the people who brought the judicial review were now supporting the amendment which will be considered on Friday they would indeed have a case that they had played a part in improving the proposals and I would have been happy to acknowledge it.

As they are opposing the proposed changes to a proposal to which the council has already resolved to give planning permission, they are hardly in a position to simultaneously claim credit for the changes they are currently fighting against.

The sensible time to finalise the Section 106 agreement is when the final terms on which is should be based are known after the DC&R committee has made it's decision on Friday/
Gary Bullivant said…
Interesting response. I'm happy to name names because she, and it is overwhelmingly her, deserves acknowledgement as a political novice for playing her challenging hand as well as she has. In doing so she has seen off the influence peddler from New Century Media and flushed out all sorts of interesting stuff that wouldn't otherwise have been available for your constituents to see. She's not claiming credit for it here, I'm the one giving her the credit because the new material is very informative and worthwhile to know.

I disagree about the S106 too but, given another DC&R approval is well nigh guaranteed, it will be interesting to see how long it takes to secure it.
Chris Whiteside said…
If you are happy to name names perhaps you would explain who you mean by "the influence peddler from New Century Media" because I suspect most of the people reading this blog won't have the faintest idea who you are talking about.
Gary Bullivant said…
I'm disappointed. Inciting me to make offensive or potentially libellous comments that you can then delete? Shame on you.

Anyone interested in working it out for themselves and then drawing their own conclusions can use a search engine. Useful search terms might be "New Century Media" "Conservative Party" "Dimitry Firtash" and "Influence Peddling". It might take a little more effort to spot that NCM were on the WCM payroll until very recently, but they were.

Today is the last day for submitting scripts to CCC for those wishing to address Friday's meeting. I was going to ask to speak for 5 minutes on the theme of "Metallurgical Coal: What is Premium HCC HVA anyway?" but I think WA and British Steel's Background Papers, the shortening of the life of mine even with the relaxed sulphur conditions make that unnecessary.

We can all now see that WCM are proposing to produce coal for export with so much sulphur there won't be very much, if any, that is suitable for steelmaking, which will yield a very non-premium price over a much shorter period and with much of the extracted coal going straight back underground.

Their's is a proposal with its published supporting analysis from which even the most naive or inexperienced non-businessman councillor should be able to draw the appropriate conclusions before they torpedo WCMs business case on Friday.

For the avoidance of doubt,I'm very much in favour of granting the application as now presented. That's in the fervent hope that WCM restores the Marchon site at their overseas controlling shareholders'(whoever they are) expense before the laws of finance reasert themselves and it goes bust.

Chris Whiteside said…
I'm not trying to incite you to libel anyone, I just thought it would be a good idea to explain what on earth you were talking about.

By explaining that WCM used to employ New Century media I suppose you you have done that.
Gary Bullivant said…
For six years they did. For past six months they didn't. That's the six months since it became apparent that, despite all those Leader's Club dinners, Black and White Balls, Summer Drinks parties and countless donations, they were being beaten into a cocked judicial hat by a lady artist from Milnthorpe.

Chris Whiteside said…
I don't think the fate or the effectiveness or otherwise of New Century Media are of any interest whatsoever to the vast majority of people who care about this decision.

Quite frankly, until you posted their name on my blog I had never heard of them, which in my past experience where I have been either a local member or a member of the planning committee of the authority dealing with an application would not usually be true of a PR or communications agency employed by an applicant who were any good at the job.

What people in West Cumbria care about is the jobs, and the environment, or most often both, although we might not all have the same ideas about how to secure those things.
Gary Bullivant said…
Just as well that anyone else reading this exchange will very probably have an interest in politics rather than be job hunting. Anyway, I look forward to hearing your thoughts tomorrow and your readout in due course. Some of the edge has gone out of it all because there won't be a floor show and now the Secretary of State has applied his brake on proceedings before the event this time.

"In exercise of his powers under Article 31 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015, the Secretary of State hereby directs your Council not to grant permission on this application without specific authorisation."

Chris Whiteside said…
Not sure you are completely right about the people reading this: many of the people who read my blog probably do have an interest in politics but I wouldn't bet there are no people who follow the websites and FB pages of their local councillors because they have an interest in local issues.

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