Political chaos sees decision on Cumbrian coal mine delayed

The decision on whether or not to approve a new coal mine in Cumbria, set to be taken by the communities secretary, has been delayed as Westminster is swept into a political storm which has seen the previous post-holder Michael Gove fired.

A planning inquiry into the controversial coal mine took place in September 2021, where campaign group Friends of the Earth opposed the application for planning permission, along with local campaign group South Lakes Against Climate Change.

The government had said that Gove, the then secretary of state for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) would decide on or before 7 July.

However, following 36 hours of political turmoil in Westminster, which has seen the communities secretary out of a job, the decision has been delayed. 

Friends of the Earth says that it expects the decision to nonetheless be taken in the next few days, with campaigner Jamie Peters saying that the evidence against it is “overwhelming”.

“The market for the mine is rapidly disappearing as steel plants move to coal-free production. On top of this UK steel has already replaced Russian coal, while the government’s climate advisor has described the plans as ‘indefensible,’” he said.

Amid political events yesterday, environment secretary George Esutice said in an interview with The Times that he backed the new coal mine, and defended the use of coking coal.

“It is with gas as with coal,” he said. “If we still need to use it for certain industries, and there’s still a role for gas in the transition to net zero, not least to create blue hydrogen — if we do need this coal in order to have a viable steel industry, then we might as well use our own coal and use our own gas rather than be reliant on other countries.”

Commenting on Eustice’s stance, Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF, said: “We sit on the brink of climate catastrophe, and rather than sounding the alarm the environment minister appears to have put his weight behind a project that will prolong our dependence on the most harmful of fossil fuels.

"To tackle the climate crisis and bring down skyrocketing bills, the UK government needs to supercharge investment in renewables at the same time as levelling up support for households to insulate their homes, helping to save energy in the long term.”

As well as a decision on the coal mine, campaigners are expecting a second verdict to be given in response to a review on shale gas extraction carried out by the British Geological Society.

Friends of the Earth says that this second decision could see the moratorium on fracking lifted, and Peters warned that fracking would “blight local communities and do little to boost energy security or bring down soaring bills”. 

“It’s little wonder it’s been so unpopular with local people,” he added.