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First new UK deep coal mine in decades given green light for third time

06 October 2020

Cumbria County Council (CCC) has granted planning permission approval for a third time to West Cumbria Mining (WCM) to develop the Cumbrian Metallurgical Coal Project, the UK’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years. The mine, known as Woodhouse Colliery, will be located underground on a brownfield site, to the south west of Whitehaven in West Cumbria, UK.

Woodhouse Colliery when operational - Image: West Cumbria Mining
Woodhouse Colliery when operational - Image: West Cumbria Mining

Woodhouse Colliery, which has faced strong criticism from climate campaigners for several years, has been approved by CCC on two other occasions since 2017 but required further consideration after WCM said further analysis meant the plant’s design could be “improved”.

The CCC’s Development Control and Regulation Committee voted 12-3 to grant planning permission on October 2, with two abstentions.

WCM said once construction of Woodhouse Colliery is completed and it moves into the operational phase, the company plans to extract and process around 2.7 million tonnes of metallurgical coal per year from under the seabed, focused on supplying the UK and European steel-making plants, which currently import around 60 million tonnes per annum from USA, Canada, Russia and Australia.

As part of the planning approval, WCM must meet several planning conditions set out by the CCC, including a legally binding greenhouse gas assessment and a production end date of no later than 2049.

WCM said that it anticipates that site work will start in early 2021, with initial coal production commencing around 18 months from the start of construction.

West Cumbria Mining’s CEO Mark Kirkbride said, “Today marks another very important milestone in our journey to develop a world class mine in Cumbria and is the culmination of six years of dedication and determination by the WCM team to realise our vision”.

“Woodhouse Colliery will bring significant local benefits to Whitehaven, Copeland and Cumbria in terms of jobs and investment, at a critical time given the impacts of Covid-19 upon employment and economics both locally and nationally. I am proud to be part of a scheme which will have such a positive impact on the local community as well as the long-term financial benefits the mine will bring to Cumbria and the UK”.

Deep coal mining in the UK, a sector that employed more than one million people across several thousand pits a century ago, ceased in December 2015 with the closure of Kellingley colliery in North Yorkshire.

However, the CCC’s decisions to issue an approval notice for Woodhouse Colliery cannot be issued until Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick has made a decision on the matter. Jenrick has the power to overrule local planning authorities, although he previously chose to reject a request to do so for the Woodhouse Colliery project.

Nonetheless, Jenrick is likely to face calls from climate campaigners to block the plans. One of the major criticisms of Woodhouse Colliery is that it presents a significant challenge for the UK government which is attempting to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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