Britain’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years has been given the go-ahead by Cumbria county council, sparking protests from climate change campaigners that the decision would harm the UK’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.
The £165m Woodhouse colliery was backed by Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors, who said it would bring vital jobs to the area. Copeland’s Conservative MP Trudy Harrison has “wholeheartedly” endorsed the proposed undersea mine, saying the investment it would bring to the area was crucial.
The developer West Cumbria Mining Limited said the site, along the coast from Whitehaven, would process 2.5m tonnes of coking coal a year for the UK and European steel industry, replacing imports from the US, Canada, Russia and Columbia.
To mitigate some of the impact of the plant on the environment, the owners have agreed a deal for a 50 megawatt solar farm nearby to provide about a third of the project’s energy needs.
The mine is due to begin production in about two years’ time, subject to environmental certificates, and is expected to employ 500 people, with an estimated 2,000 more jobs created in its supply chain.
Deep coal mining in the UK, a sector that employed more than one million people across several thousand pits a century ago, ceased in December 2015 with the closure of Kellingley colliery in North Yorkshire.
Announcing the approval of Woodhouse colliery, councillor Geoff Cook, the chair of Cumbria county council’s development control and regulation committee, said it was not an easy decision and there would be mixed views.
“All of us would prefer to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and we recognise that during construction there will be disruption to many local residents,” he said. “However, we felt that the need for coking coal, the number of jobs on offer and the chance to remove contamination outweighed concerns about climate change and local amenity.”
Climate change campaigners have called for steep reductions in coal burning to prevent global temperatures increasing by more than the 2% limit set at the Paris climate summit. Coal made up 38% of global energy production 20 years ago and, following an expansion across the developing world, still does today.
Greenpeace said it objected to the mine, saying it could not be justified when it was possible to recycle steel using plants supplied with electricity.
Steel industry sources said most steel in the UK was made using blast furnaces, which depended on coking coal.
Mark Kirkbride, the chief executive of West Cumbria Mining, said: “Woodhouse colliery will bring significant local benefits to Whitehaven, Copeland and Cumbria in terms of jobs and investment. I am proud to be part of something which will have such a positive impact on the local community and economy as well as the long-term financial benefits the mine will bring to the UK.”