A MAJOR step has been taken in re-introducing mining to West Cumbria.

Although controversial plans to open a new coal mine in Whitehaven were given the green light by Cumbria County Council’s Development Control and Regulation Committee in October 2020, formal permission was not officially granted.

Following the go-ahead from the county council, a holding direction was issued, meaning Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, was considering whether or not to call-in the decision, and make the final call himself.

But after a long-running series of challenges and delays, work on the £165 million plans is officially one step closer to beginning, as the county council’s decision to to grant planning permission will no longer be called-in.

Long-standing supporter of the project, Copeland MP Trudy Harrison, said: "I have consistently fully supported the West Cumbria Mining Project, which will bring considerable investment, hundreds of well paid permanent jobs, apprenticeship opportunities, skills training for young people, opportunities for local suppliers, and Woodhouse Colliery will be sited in an area which has been one of Copeland’s more deprived areas.

"I very much welcome that West Cumbria Mining have indicated that 80% of jobs will be sourced locally, and that is good news for Copeland.

"West Cumbria Mining will be an innovative leader in coking coal extraction.

"I welcome the news that the government has decided not to call in the original planning decision."

She added: "I would now urge West Cumbria Mining and Cumbria County Council to work closely together on the remaining legal planning obligations to get this project over the line."

Mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie is also delighted with the news, and said: “I am thrilled with the news that the Secretary of State will not be calling-in Cumbria County Council’s decision to approve the West Cumbria Mining application for Whitehaven.

“In the letter I have received following my support of the mining application, the Minister of State for Housing writes that the Government has decided that this a decision best taken locally – and I wholeheartedly agree.

“The case has now been referred back to Cumbria County Council to complete the legal requirements on the decision their Planning Panel took in October, and I look forward to this process being completed as quickly as possible so this key project can finally get under way.

“This is a significant employment and new skills opportunity for Copeland and West Cumbria at this extremely challenging time, and will play a significant role in our economic recovery.

“It will supply the domestic and European steel industry with high quality metallurgical coal, thereby representing an important new export-led industrial project.

“This project has had my support since day one, as well as that of Copeland Council, our community and businesses, and it is extremely welcome news that it has taken this significant step forward.”

If given full approval to begin, the project will see the extraction of coking coal off the coast of St Bees, with a processing plant on the former Marchon site at Kells.

But not everybody is happy with the news.

Friends of the Earth coal campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said: “Mr Jenrick’s refusal to ‘call-in’ this unnecessary and climate-wrecking coal mine shows 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 outraged campaigner continued: “Allowing coal to be extracted from this proposed mine for over a quarter of a century completely undermines the government’s credibility on the climate crisis – especially ahead of the crucial UN summit later this year, which the UK is hosting.

“Global leadership on the climate emergency means leaving coal in the ground, where it belongs.”

Dr Ruth Balogh, of West Cumbria and North Lakes Friends of the Earth, was also shocked by the news, and said: “It’s astonishing and desperately disappointing that the government isn’t calling in this damaging coal mine.

“West Cumbria badly needs local jobs – but these should be generated by investing in clean energy and building a greener future, not industries that threaten the planet.

“The region has already experienced the effects of the climate crisis from recent flooding. Unless we say no to fossil fuels this will only get worse.”

While the plans have been given the green light, they are yet to officially go ahead, with a Section 106 Agreement being discussed and agreed upon with the council.

A Cumbria County Council spokesperson said: “The Secretary of State has the power to take over particular planning applications rather than letting the local planning authority decide, which is known as ‘call-in’.

“We have been informed that the Secretary of State has decided not to call in the decision on the planning application for West Cumbria Mining. This is a matter for the Secretary of State and therefore it would not be appropriate for us to comment on their decision.

“The Council will now work with the developer to formalise the legal planning obligations, referred to as a section 106 Agreement. The Section 106 Agreement will need to be finalised before the council can formally give the development permission.”