A public inquiry into the controversial plans for a £165m colliery on the St Bees coast is to start in September.
Cumbria County Council approved the Woodhouse Colliery proposal from West Cumbria Mining unanimously in March 2019, with WCM outlining its plans to mine coking coal, largely for use in the steel industry, on a 689-acre site near Whitehaven over up to 50 years.
Although the Secretary of State initially refused to intervene, pressure has since mounted both locally and nationally, with new evidence submitted last year along with a legal challenge.
The outcomes of that have been Cumbria earlier this year declaring its intention to review approval, while Secretary of State Robert Jenrick reversed his earlier decision and opted for a call-in.
That decision infuriated WCM, which lodged its application as far back as summer 2017 – the firm said in mid-March that coking coal “plays a crucial part in the renewable energy supply chain”.
The public inquiry is scheduled to start on 7 September, with 16 days allocated. The deadline for submissions to be considered is 6 May.
Among the anti-mine lobby is Friends of the Earth. The organisation’s North West campaigner Estelle Worthington said: “While we’re delighted this short-sighted application for a coal mine is finally going to public inquiry, it should have been ‘called in’ months ago. Friends of the Earth was urging the government to do this last year.
“The reality is that with the world in the middle of a climate crisis, new coal mines shouldn’t be allowed. Instead, the government should fast-track the development of a zero carbon future, and reap the benefits from the new jobs and opportunities this will bring.
“Friends of the Earth has been given permission to take part in the inquiry, and we look forward to highlighting the many reasons why this climate-wrecking development should be rejected.”
The pulbic inquiry will, according to a letter sent by the MCHLG, ask the scheme’s promoters to explain how the scheme will be compatible with the Government’s climate change commitments.
Copeland’s Conservative MP Trudy Harrison is among those who insist the operation will reduce the UK’s need to import coking coal. She said the inquiry should sit locally:
“Clearly the people who will benefit the most and who will be most affected are my constituents in Copeland. That is why, if there is a physical venue, it must be in Whitehaven.
“I will be speaking in support, arguing the present and future societal need for steel, especially as we transition from fossil fuel dependency to low carbon alternatives and green jobs.
“I will explain the current and long-term coking coal requirements for the UK and European steel plants, whilst also making the case for a net zero-compliant steel industry.”