Environmental campaigners have attacked a UK government decision to permit the country’s first new deep coal mine for 30 years, despite its pledge to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050.
The pit in Cumbria, north-west England, would create 500 jobs in an area reliant on the nuclear industry and seasonal tourism.
But the decision by housing secretary Robert Jenrick to leave the local council to grant the approval, rather than assess the plan himself, is seen by environmentalists as a sign that the Conservative party will prioritise economic growth over climate change as it seeks to cement its electoral gains in former industrial areas of England.
Doug Parr, policy director for Greenpeace, said: “How can the government expect to claim global leadership as it hosts international climate talks later this year after giving this the green light?”
“Of course, job creation is absolutely vital to communities but we must look forward to the jobs of 21st century, not back to those in declining industries. Robert Jenrick needs to immediately reverse his decision not to call this in and then can the project completely.”
Although the coking coal from the site will be used by the steel industry — rather than for producing energy — the decision is still controversial. The UK is poised to chair the latest round of global climate change talks, COP26, in Glasgow next year.
Because Britain has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050, the £160m mine must shut by 2049. Burning the coal produced by the pit will emit 8m tonnes of carbon annually but West Cumbria Mining, the developer, said it would displace imports, reducing carbon emissions.
The mine, approved by Cumbria county council in October, will extract about 2.4m tonnes of coal annually, mainly from under the seabed. Trains will take the processed coal to blast furnaces in Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire, Port Talbot in south Wales, and possibly overseas.
The pit is in Copeland, near the port of Whitehaven, and local MP Trudy Harrison is prime minister Boris Johnson’s parliamentary aide. Copeland is one of a number of so-called “red wall” seats in former Labour-voting areas that has switched allegiance in the last three years.
Friends of the Earth coal campaigner Tony Bosworth said Mr Jenrick had shown “jaw-dropping inconsistency”.
“Only a few short months ago, the government cast real doubts over industry’s demand for coal, beyond the short-term, when rejecting an opencast mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland. And last month the government said it would no longer support fossil fuel projects overseas.”
The UK’s last deep coal mine, Kellingley, closed in 2015 and England’s last open-cast coal mine stopped operating this year.
Mark Kirkbride, chief executive of West Cumbria Mining, said preparatory work would begin this year, and the mine would open 18 months later.
The housing ministry said the application related to coking coal rather than coal for electricity generation. In a statement, it 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.”