The UK is to sink its first deep coal mine for more than 30 years after the government said it would not block planning permission for the pit in Cumbria.
The ministry of Housing confirmed that it would not “call in” the application, already approved by the Cumbria county council, despite objections from green groups.
West Cumbria Mining said it would press ahead with the pit, which is near the old Haig colliery close to Whitehaven on the north-west coast of England. The company said the mine would bring 500 well-paid jobs to the area. The region relies heavily on the nuclear industry and seasonal tourism.
WCM will extract coking cole used in steel and chemical works. The company argued that the fuel was needed and that its production would displace imports, bringing a net carbon benefit.
“WCM can now start the process of delivering on its plan to build one of the most modern mines in the world. It will supply the UK and international steel industry, deliver hundreds of local jobs and deliver a first-class supply chain across the county,” it said.
It will extract around 2.5m tonnes of coal annually from under the seabed over 50 years.
The site is in the key marginal seat of Copeland, taken by the Conservatives in a 2016 by-election. The scheme is popular locally because of the jobs it promised and is supported by Copeland MP Trudy Harrison and Labour councillors.
However, Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron, who holds neighbouring Westmoreland and Lonsdale, said it was “a massive kick in the teeth in the fight to tackle climate change.”
“Cumbria has so many renewable resources to provide energy — water, wind and solar — and we should most definitely not be taking the backwards step of opening a new coal mine,” said Mr Farron.
Tony Bosworth, a Friends of the Earth clean energy campaigner, said: “Power generation is already phasing coal out so it’s time that industries like steel and cement follow suit. The shift to cleaner energy needs to be a top priority.”
Mr Bosworth added: “I am very clear that fossil fuels should stay in the ground and that we should invest fully in zero carbon energy instead and lower carbon methods of producing steel.”
This year, the government blocked a new open cast mine in Northumberland due to climate change concerns.
The UK’s last deep coal mine shut in 2015 after demand dropped and government strove to replace coal with gas. Coal-fired power stations around the country are being phased out.
The approval for the Cumbria mine came just hours after the government slapped a temporary ban on another fossil fuel, shale gas. Business and energy secretary Andrea Leadsom said fracking might be linked to earthquakes and must cease until “compelling new evidence” showed it was safe. The most recent earthquake in August this year was a 2.9 magnitude tremor caused by underground hydraulic fracturing near Blackpool.
Fracking is deeply unpopular and opposed in many marginal constituencies the Conservatives need to win the general election announced this week.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reacted to Leadsom’s announcement. Mr Corbyn called it “greenwash” and said that Labour would permanently ban fracking in the UK. Ms Leadsom said yesterday that shale gas remained a “huge opportunity” but could not resume until it could be done without causing earthquakes.
The Treasury also announced on Saturday that it would begin a first-of-its-kind net zero review, to determine how the UK can maximise economic growth while reducing its net emissions to zero by 2050.