West Cumbria Mining will next month find out if its plans for a new metallurgical coal mine at the former Marchon works site near Whitehaven can go ahead.
The plans cover mineral extraction over 50 years over a 689-acre site running to and beyond the St Bees coast. The £165m project includes associated development such as the refurbishment of two existing drifts leading to two new underground drifts; coal storage and processing buildings; office and change building, an access road, ventilation, power and water infrastructure and landscaping.
There is also provision for a coal loading facility and railway sidings linked to the Cumbrian Coast railway line with adjoining office and welfare facilities, along with the extension of railway underpass and permanent access on land off Mirehouse Road, Pow Beck Valley. The intention is for coal to be moved entirely by rail to UK steel making and port destinations.
Dating back to the Second World War, Marchon Works was used for a variety of chemical and energy-related purposes, at one point being the largest single-site producer of sulphuric acid in Europe. The site closed in 2005.
Woodhouse is close to the Haig pit, which was mined for coal until it closed in 1986. A mining museum was subsequently opened at the Haig site, but closed in 2016. WCM owns two off-shore licences and one on-shore licence block south of the Haig pit. The latest consultation period on WMC’s plans ended in January.
The application was submitted in May 2017, but has subsequently been amended following consultation with Cumbria County Council and Natural England. The key points of the scheme remain the same as submitted, with the main differences being the rerouting of underground access tunnels so that flooded previous mine workings can be avoided.
The original plan had been to pump these workings clear and use them for access and storing waste rock, which will now be accommodated elsewhere on site. WCM will now use the existing drifts before diverting the anhydrite mine woerkings in order to access coal seams.
In a planning update issued in December, WCM said that the local environment will benefit from the remediation of a significant portion of the Marchon site, with over 18 acres of wildlife habitats to be created. In addition, it said that the ongoing risk of flooding in Sandwith village will be eliminated and any existing contaminant escape risks from the southern part of the Marchon site will be removed due to the proposed remediation strategy.
Over four years, 11 public events have been held, with more than 2,700 people engaging with the project, 97% of responses being “pleased or OK about the prospect of a new mine”. Public perceptions have improved bit by bit as consultation has gone on, although the project has also attracted protests.
Cumbria County Council’s development control and regulation committee meets on 19 March in Kendal.