CGI showing what the proposed colliery from West Cumbria Mining could look like. Credit: via West Cumbria Mining

Govt to be sued over £165m Cumbria coal mine decision

Environmental activist group Friends of the Earth is filing legal claims against the government, saying that it did not factor in the climate impacts of the mine in its December approval.

West Cumbria Mining has been seeking to build a colliery on 689 acres near Whitehaven since 2017. The colliery would be used to aid in the production of steel and not in generating power.

West Cumbria’s planning application was approved by Cumbria County Council in 2019. A second, adjusted application was signed off in 2020.

However, the last application was sent to the Planning Inspectorate in the face of objections from Friends of the Earth and local activism group South Lakes Action on Climate Change.

Last year, secretary of state Michael Gove approved the coal mine, stating that it would have a “neutral effect” on climate change.

Friends of the Earth lawyer Niall Toru described Gove’s choice as “the wrong decision for our economy and the climate”.

Toru continued: “Michael Gove has failed to account for the significant climate impacts of this mine, or how the much-needed move to green steelmaking will be impacted by its approval.

“The steel industry is under no illusion that it must decarbonise if we’re to meet our climate goals, which calls into doubt the long-term viability of the mine and the jobs used to justify it,” Toru said.

He concluded: “With the world facing a climate emergency, we shouldn’t have to take this challenge to court. Any sensible government should be choosing to leave coal in the ground, and accelerating the transition to a safe, clean and sustainable future.”

In its legal action against the government, Friends of the Earth is represented by Leigh Day’s Rowan Smith, Landmark Chambers’ Paul Brown and Alex Shattock, and Matrix Chambers’ Toby Fisher.

Regarding the choice to go to court, solicitor Smith said: “A critical issue raised by Friends of the Earth during the inquiry was the signal that granting a new coal mine in the middle of a climate emergency would send to the rest of the world.

“Friends of the Earth believes that this was never properly grappled with by either the inspector or the secretary of state. We hope that the court will agree that this argument justifies a full hearing.”

When asked for comment regarding the impending legal action, a spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities said: “The secretary of state has agreed to grant planning permission for a new metallurgical coal mine in Cumbria as recommended by the independent planning inspector.

“This coal will be used for the production of steel and will not be used for power generation,” the spokesperson continued.

“The reasons for the secretary of state’s decision are set out in full in his published letter, alongside the report of the independent planning inspector who oversaw the inquiry into the proposal.”

West Cumbria Mining’s application reference number is 4/17/9007 with Cumbria County Council. Its call-in reference number is APP/H0900/V/21/3271069 with the Planning Inspectorate.

Your Comments

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Stop the import of coal from other countries, if coal is needed mine it ourselves, West Cumbria needs employment opportunities. Too many well meaning people have a blikered attitude
They only consider their own thoughts. Stop the mining of coal when there is no need

By Robert Dawes

If FotE can prove mining coal overseas and shipping it to the UK and transporting it to the end user is better for the climate, they may have a case.

By Anonymous

Coal from this mine is NOT needed for the steel industry. One major user has said it will not use if anyway (as it has the wrong properties). Other steel manufacturers in other countries are already moving away from coal. To allow this mine will simply encourage the use of coal for longer in British industry. West Cumbria needs employment, but this should and easily could be Green jobs – there is no need for coal mines to provide this employment.

By Peter Black

Opening the mine will actually reduce pollution, as imports will no longer be needed and therefore the use of shipping will be reduced –

By Stuart wood

Buying from another economy (getting a good deal for taxpayers, shareholders, consumers) means every pound spent is one pound lost; wherease every pound spent in the UK returns to the UK treasury within a few years in taxation, fees, employees, less soc. sec outlay, and boost UK industry skills, etc. But UK politicians think buying British means handing taxpayers money to the lower caste. However, in national economics, unlike a household or a commercial business, money goes round in circles.

By James Yates

Missed opportunity to build a major renewable plant. That way locals still get jobs and we get closer to actually meeting our climate commitments


We need to be more self sufficient in how we source our raw materials and energy supply.
In an ever changing world we must secure our supply chains. If it means this has to happen so be it. Recent events in Europe and the potential for disruption to our supply chain are proof enough.

By Geopolitical

The Chief Exec of the Materials Processing Institute has said that over 90% of the coal is going to be *exported* by the time this plant opens due to decarbonising being seen in the steel industry. Any claims that this will reduce pollution is ill-informed at best and otherwise intentionally manipulating what will be real-life emissions into our atmosphere. The climate crisis is real and significant, how many times does this have to be said.

By Anonymous

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