The first deep coal mine to be dug in the UK in three decades looks set to win planning permission on Friday.
A meeting of Cumbria county council is set to approve plans for the project at a site near Whitehaven in the North West, despite attempts by Extinction Rebellion to block them by staging protests outside council headquarters as well as bigger protests in London and Manchester last month.
The green activists claim the mine, which is expected to supply the UK and European steel industries, would undermine the government’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050.
The mine was already given the go-ahead in 2019 but was delayed by a judicial review brought by campaigners who argued that it was incompatible with the UK’s environmental aims.
The company behind the project, West Cumbria Mining, had to resubmit plans. It claims the coal will be a substitute for imports, rather than increasing emissions.
The mine will extract about 2.4m tons of coal annually, mostly from under the seabed. Processed coal would then be carried underground to trains.
West Cumbria Mining claims the project would create 500 jobs in an area where the main employers are the nuclear industry and tourism.
Cumbria County Council says that it is backing the £160 million colliery as long as it closes by 2049, only one year ahead of the deadline for the UK to become carbon neutral. The original plan was for the mine to have a lifespan of 70 years
A report last year suggested that the new coal mine would produce 8.4 million tons of CO2 per year.
Britain’s last deep coal mine, at Kellingley colliery in North Yorkshire, was closed in 2015.
The mine could prove embarrassing for the UK government should Cumbria County Council approve the project as expected. The UK is due to host the COP26 round of UN global climate talks in Glasgow in November 2021, putting the country’s environmental record under increased scrutiny.
The move also comes as UK steelmakers are in the process of switching from coal to gas, and then to low-carbon hydrogen, supported by new UK government funding of £150 million for low-carbon hydrogen production, and £250 million for a new Clean Steel Fund.
In September, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick rejected plans to dig up millions of tonnes of coal at a prospective opencast mining site near Druridge Bay in Northumberland on the grounds it was environmentally unacceptable.
XR branches across Cumbria have been calling on Cumbria County Council to follow the Secretary of State's line.
Westmorland and Lonsdale Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron has said that he will lobby Jenrick to call in the decision for a rethink, should the county council give the green light to the mine for a second time today.
Said Farron: “There are far better ways of creating jobs than this – especially when improvements in technology and a likely decline in demand for coal won’t guarantee the full 500 jobs for the full 50 years."
“In Cumbria, we are England’s windiest and wettest county with the fastest moving rivers in the country – our natural resources and the strength of our nuclear industry could create many times more renewable energy jobs than this mine ever could."