CONTROVERSIAL plans for a new coal mine in West Cumbria have been approved.

But while Cumbria County Council’s Development Control and Regulation Committee has given the development the green light, they can’t formally give it permission yet.

A holding direction has been issued meaning Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, is considering whether or not to call in the decision and make the final call himself.

The revised application was approved with 12 votes in favour and three against. Two councillors abstained and one was unable to vote.

The decision came after a near seven-hour virtual meeting today which heard an in-depth report from council officers, representations from MPs, local councillors, members of the public and the applicant West Cumbria Mining.

The key issues surrounding the debate focussed on whether high grade coal, which would be used for steel production, would substitute what is currently imported from the US to markets in the UK and Europe, and, its environmental impact.

Long-standing supporter Mike Starkie, Mayor of Copeland, welcomed the decision.

“This is an important new export-led industrial project. It is a significant employment and new skills opportunity for Copeland and West Cumbria at this extremely challenging and difficult time, and will supply the domestic and European steel industry with high quality metallurgical coal," he said.

“The project will deliver a vital economic boost at local and regional levels and utilise a valuable local industrial resource which enjoys strong demand in the national and European steel industry."

He continued: “The area has been almost completely reliant on the nuclear industry for decades, but with the current changes which Sellafield are implementing in terms of a significant reduction in jobs, the need for diversification to other industries is apparent.

“As such, it is imperative for the survival and economic prosperity of Copeland, Allerdale and Barrow that diversification is supported in terms of new projects, long term job creation and wealth coming back into the local economy.”

Councillor Tony Markley said the economical benefits outweighed any environmental issues which had been debate.

"This is Britain's energy coast. I am content for this new West Cumbrian project to be a major contributor to the local, national and international economy. I look forward to West Cumbria prospering both nationally and internationally."

Councillor Alan McGuckin said he supported the steel industry but voted against the proposal as he felt, globally, the coal mine was not needed.

He said if it doesn't substitute for the import of coking coal from the US it is "a disaster environmentally".

"On the basis of supporting the planet and making a judgement for the benefit of all, I'm voting against the commission for this coal mine," said Mr McGuckin.

Other councillors struggled to come to a decision.

Councillor Hilary Carrick, who eventually decided she could not support the application, said it had been "incredibly difficult" while Roger Bingham said he could not make up his mind and abstained.

Among those making a representation was Cumbria consultant ecologist Dr Henry Adams who highlighted the temperature goals in Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which aim for nations to hold the increase in average global temperatures to below 2C and to pursue efforts to aim to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C.

He stated that climate scientists predict the increase will reach 1.5C in 2030, if not before, and that 2049 - a new condition limiting the lifetime of the coal mine - would be too late to reduce emissions.

"If we continue on our present fossil-burning course to 2050 before we make a sudden major reduction, we will not just fail to meet Paris goals but will also risk crossing +2 degrees C between 2040 and 2050," he said.

"The coal mine would be in economic and political opposition to the decarbonisation of Europe’s steelmaking industry, and would harm UK’s credibility as host of COP26 next year."