Work to create a £165 million undersea mine off the west Cumbrian coast will not start until the end of next year and plans for a supporting solar farm are in the pipeline, it has been revealed.

Mark Kirkbride, chief executive of West Cumbria Mining, said it looked likely that the planning application for the coking coal mine, off Whitehaven, would not go before county planning chiefs until July.

The project has been given the backing of Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade and Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse minister.

Mr Kirkbride said: "It's fantastic to have that support, and very unusual."

The proposed 60 acre solar farm, on a 600 acre site at Weddicar, would provide 40 per cent of the mine's power needs, Mr Kirkbride added.

It had been hoped that the county council would discuss the application in spring.

If it gets the go ahead, work would not start on the mine until February 2019, instead of later this year.

Mr Kirkbride said: "I am frustrated that it is taking so long. We thought it was going to be soon. We've paid £500,000 to the county council in fees to get to this point and it seems like there's a long road ahead.

"But we are not going to walk away from west Cumbria. This is a world class mining project we are trying to bring here and we remain committed."

It was hoped that if the mine was given the green light in the spring, work could be completed by 2020 and full mining production would start in 2023. This has now been put back.

Mr Kirkbride was giving a presentation at the Copeland Open for Business conference at Whitehaven Golf Course last Thursday.

The company has spent around £23m on investigation work and putting together the application.

But, he told the audience at the Copeland Open for Business event: "I first approached Copeland Council with plans to open a coking coal mine in Whitehaven in 2014.

"I had £25 million in funding, the ability to create hundreds of jobs and let me tell you, Copeland wasn't open for business in 2014. I'm glad it is now."

“The planning application to open the country’s first new coal mine for over 30 years was bound to be complex.

"It has cut across a wide spectrum of issues; from the need for coal to be extracted, to its safe transport, from contamination and landscape remediation to safeguarding ecology.

"Cumbria County Council has continued to work with WCM, and with the local and national consultees, with the intention of bring the planning application forward for consideration.

"In line with national guidance the council has a Planning Performance Agreement in place with WCM, this covers the council’s costs of working on the application.

"However as with any planning application it is the responsibility of the applicant to secure the necessary agreements and consents from statutory consultees.

"Following recent negotiations with consultees WCM have requested to amend their proposals to drive two new extraction tunnels.

"Full details of these amendments will shortly be publicised and consulted upon so that the application can continue to be progressed."

  • West Cumbria Mining is holding open days for people to find out more about the project at its offices at the former Haig Museum on May 17 from 2pm to 7pm, May 18 from 10am to 4pm and May 19 from 9am to 3pm.