High Court rejects legal challenge against ‘unlawful’ Cumbria coal mine

The High Court has refused to hear a legal challenge brought by campaigners against a controversial Cumbria coal mine that was granted planning permission in December 2022.

The plans for the mine, which is set to be the first new deep coal mine in the UK in three decades, were first approved in 2020 by Cumbria County Council. However, the council reconsidered the decision in early 2021 following a backlash from campaigners, with more than 80 NGOs calling for a public inquiry.

A public planning enquiry was carried out in Autumn 2021, and levelling up secretary Michael Gove approved the mine on 8 December 2022, following a long string of delays.

READ MORE: The legal arguments that could torpedo the Cumbria coal mine

The decision document stated that the mine would be ‘net zero’, and that the greenhouse gas emissions from the mine would be “relatively neutral and not significant” and mitigated through off-setting.

Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action (SLACC) on Climate Change (SLACC), both filed a statutory appeal against the decision in January 2023 under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Both groups challenged the coal mine’s climate credentials, in particular challenging the claim that there would not be a net increase in carbon emissions from coking coal as a result of the mine.

The groups said the plans would go against the government's commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and the Sixth Carbon Budget. The two groups also raised concerns of the acceptability of using carbon credits to offset emissions.

Since the campaigners' grounds overlapped, both asked for their cases to be heard together. However, they have now revealed that the challenge has been denied a hearing by the High Court.

The campaigners have said that they plan to challenge the decision.

Carole Wood, chair of SLACC, said: “We are disappointed with this decision, but we and our legal team are firmly of the view that there are legal errors in the government’s decision to permit the mine. ”

Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Bosworth noted that the High Court’s decision “isn’t the end of the line”.   

He said: “We still believe that giving the go ahead to the Whitehaven coal mine was unlawful and we will be asking the court to reconsider its decision.

“With the world in an accelerating climate crisis, these issues cannot be ignored.”