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Jenrick makes a U-turn on Cumbrian coal mine

Words: Laura Edgar
Robert Jenrick / Chris McAndrew

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has decided to call in an application for an underground mine that would be located on a brownfield site south-west of Whitehaven as there have been ‘further developments’.

In October 2020, Cumbria County Council considered for a third time West Cumbria Mining’s Cumbria Metallurgical Coal Project, which is named Woodhouse Colliery. It is thought that the £165 million scheme could create about 500 jobs.

The council’s approval of the scheme was criticised by environmental campaigners, while in January, Jenrick opted to not call in the application. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said that “wherever possible”, planning decisions should be made at a local level.

In February, Cumbria County Council announced that it would reconsider its approval of the underground mine in light of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) Sixth Carbon Budget (2033-2037), published in December. On 5 March, West Cumbria Mining announced that it has lodged formal papers with the High Court to begin judicial review proceedings.

Now, in a letter published on the MHCLG site and written on behalf of Jenrick, a decision officer notes that this consideration by the county council of the application would be the fourth time and “under his powers in section 77 of the 1990 act, that the application shall be referred to him instead of being dealt with by the local planning authority”.

The secretary of state does not normally give his reasons for calling in applications, but considers it appropriate to do so in this case, given that it is a live legal case and a “substantive” scheme.

The letter states that since Jenrick decided not to call in the application, the CCC’s latest carbon budget had emerged. “The secretary of state recognises that proponents and opponents take different positions on that matter, and considers that this should be explored during a public inquiry. Furthermore, controversy about the application has increased. Overall, the secretary of state considers that this application raises planning issues of more than local importance, and further considers that the limbs of the call-in policy relating to potential conflict with national policies in chapters 14 and 17 of the [National Planning Policy] Framework and substantial cross-boundary or national controversy are satisfied.”

The Planning Inspectorate will make arrangements for the inquiry.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “The communities secretary’s decision to call in this controversial coal mine is a startling, but very welcome U-turn.

“A new coal mine in Cumbria would not only wreck our climate, it would also destroy the UK Government’s credibility ahead of crucial climate talks in Glasgow later this year.

“Planning permission must be refused: ending coal use, whether for power generation or for industry, is crucial for facing down the climate emergency.

“It was not possible for the government to maintain, as it claimed only two months ago that this was just a matter of local importance, and the decision will now rightly be taken at national level.”

Read the letter here on the UK Government website.

Read more:

Council approves Cumbrian underground mine

UK must see a 78% fall in pollution emissions by 2035

SoS opts not to call in Cumbrian coal mine proposal

Council to rethink approval for Cumbrian coal mine 

Image credit | Chris McAndrew