Plans by West Cumbria Mining to develop a coal mine at a 689-acre site on the St Bees coast near Whitehaven have moved forward after the secretary of state declined to intervene in the local council’s approval.
Site work for the £165m project is now expected to get underway this year.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Planning decisions should be made at a local level wherever possible. This application has not been called-in and is a matter for Cumbria County Council to decide.”
The Woodhouse Colliery plans relates to metallurgical (coking) coal, rather than coal for electricity generation. West Cumbria Mining’s proposal covers mineral extraction over 50 years at the site, along with the refurbishment of two existing coal drifts leading to new drifts underground; coal storage and processing buildings; offices and other related buildings; an access road; ventilation, power and water infrastructure, and landscaping.
Despite opposition from environmental campaigners, the application received unanimous approval from Cumbria County Council in March 2019. The campaigners including Friends of the Earth and other non-governmental organisations clamoured for central Government to call in the decision, but the secretary of state refused to intervene.
However, the council decided to reconsider the application last year after new evidence was submitted against the proposal and a legal challenge was lodged by local campaign group Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole.
West Cumbria Mining submitted a revised application in response, which was approved by the council, but the secretary of state was again lobbied to call in the decision. This week, housing secretary Robert Jenrick refused to intervene and the council’s decision remains.
West Cumbria Mining said in a statement it is “delighted that the Government has agreed with Cumbria County Council’s decision to approve the planning application for the project and has lifted its holding direction.
“WCM would like to thank all those people and organisations, both in the local community and further afield, who have supported the project over the past six years, with particular thanks to Copeland MP Trudy Harrison, Workington MP Mark Jenkinson, Copeland Mayor Mike Starkie and Allerdale Deputy Leader Mike Johnson.
“When operational, the mine will supply metallurgical coal to the UK and international steel industry, deliver hundreds of well-paid local jobs and support a first-class supply chain across the county.”
West Cumbria Mining chief executive Mark Kirkbride added: “I am really pleased that the holding direction has been lifted following what has been an extremely rigorous planning process.
“My team and I are now looking forward to concluding planning sign-off and then being able to commence preparatory steps to begin site work later this year.”