West Cumbria Mining proposal finally approved

Michael Gove, the secretary of state for Levelling up, Communities and Local government has today approved the West Cumbria Mining planning application for a metallurgical coal mine to produce high quality coking coal for use in steel production.

This is specifically not to mine thermal coal to burn in power stations, something that the government has promised to phase out, and therefore does not break that promise: there has been a lot of nonsense talked about this, much of it from people who should know better.

As the county councillor for much of the area included in the proposal, I strongly support this decision.

It is worth emphasing that

  • Cumbria County Council's planning officers spent years crawling through the proposals for this mine in the most minute detail - and recommended approval.
  • Councillors on the planning committee, voted on this three times, after reading reports running to hundreds of pages and listening to hours of reports, presentations, and representation - and voted three times to approve it. 
  • All three votes were cross-party, the first two were unanimous, the third was by an overwhelming majority which included majorities of the councillors voting from each of the three main parties. Six to one in favour from the Conservatives, two to one in favour among local Labour councillors despite the different view of their national leadership, two to one in favour even among local Lib/Dem councillors. It also had Independent support.
  • The inspector who presided at the public inquiry, and who heard many hours of discussion and debate from every possible point of view about every aspect of the proposal, recommended approval.
  • The secretary of state lists in his decision letter which you can read here a careful analysis of all the issues raised before deciding to grant approval.
  • At every stage of a very detailed and thorough due process, the professionals and elected representatives who were responsible for a decision or recommendation supported the application. 

This is not a decision which has been taken lightly on the caprice of one individual minister. It has been attacked by many people who don't know the first thing about what is actually involved in the proposed metallurgical coal mine at Woodhouse Colliery, and in my humble opinion some of the obstacles which have been placed in the way of the application were questionable, but the application has reached this point despite a great deal of sound and fury from those who think, in my opinion wrongly, that the proposal will damage the environment because there is a much stronger case for it than any of the objectors are prepared to admit.

Here are some key extracts from the Secretary of State's decision letter.

Inspector’s recommendation and summary of the decision 

"4. The Inspector recommended that the application be approved and that planning permission for the development be granted"  

"5. For the reasons given below, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s conclusions, except where stated, and agrees with his recommendation. He has decided to grant planning permission."


Need for the coal

"18. The Secretary of State has carefully considered the Inspector’s analysis of the need for the coal. For the reasons given at IR21.25-21.34 and IR21.59-21.60, he, like the Inspector, is satisfied that there is currently a UK and European market for the coal (IR21.33), and that although there is no consensus on what future demand in the UK and Europe may be, it is highly likely that a global demand would remain (IR21.60). 

He agrees with the Inspector’s conclusion at IR21.128 that in the period up to 2049, the development of the mine would not encourage the continued use of blast furnace production methods that would otherwise have been closed or converted to lower carbon technologies. 

For the reasons given at IR21.35-21.38, he agrees with the Inspector that there is no certainty in the pace that commercial and viable alternatives to Blast Furnace-Basic Oxygen Furnace (BF-BOF) may come on stream and therefore the longer-term demand for coking coal cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty."

"35. Overall, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the impacts of GHG emissions from the subsequent use of the coal, as part of a blended coke product, at indeterminate proportion and in an indeterminate quantity, with no knowledge at this stage of the nature and efficiency of the particular blast furnace and any GHG mitigation measures that may be installed, cannot reasonably be regarded as indirect significant effects of the proposed development (IR21.123). 

Therefore he agrees with the Inspector on this matter." 

"36.The Secretary of State has gone on to consider the impacts of using coal from WCM. He agrees with the Inspector that to some extent the emissions from the use of coking coal are inevitable whether coal from the proposed development or other sources is used (IR21.122), and further agrees for the reasons given at IR21.121 that the effects of downstream emissions may well be considered neutral or slightly beneficial when compared with other extractive sources. 

He has concluded at paragraph 21 above that it is highly likely that there is the potential for a significant degree of substitution to occur. He agrees for the reasons given at IR21.120 and IR21.129 that the proposed development would have a broadly neutral effect on the global release of GHG from coal used in steel making, whether or not end-use emissions are taken into account, and would enable some of the coal used to be sourced from a mine that seeks to be net zero (IR21.129).

Conclusions on climate change

37. For the reasons given at IR21.125-21.134, the Secretary of State agrees that given no evidence was provided to suggest that any other metallurgical coal mines in the world aspire to be net-zero, the proposed mine is likely to be much better placed to mitigate GHG emissions than from comparative mining operations around the world (IR21.125). 

He further agrees that the commitment in the proposed development to be net zero over the whole life-time is entirely consistent with the approach proposed by the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy (IR21.130), and that the proposal would be consistent with paragraph 215(d) of the Framework which encourages coal extraction development to capture and use methane from active coal mines, as well as paragraph 15 of the Framework (IR21.132). 

He further agrees that the proposal would be consistent with Policy SP13 of the CMWLP which require that proposals for mineral development should demonstrate that energy management and carbon reduction measures have been included in their design (IR21.132). 

38. Overall, the Secretary of State agrees at IR21.131 that the proposed development is consistent with paragraph 152 of the Framework, and would to some extent support the transition to a low carbon future. He further agrees that the proposed development would have an overall neutral effect on climate change and is thus consistent with Government policies for meeting the challenge of climate change."


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