Copeland's mayor has hit back at the national and international criticism levelled at the proposed new coking coal mine in west Cumbria.

Mike Starkie, Conservative mayor for Copeland, the borough in which the proposed mine would reside, said he felt a lot of the criticism levelled at the mine in terms of its impact on climate change lay in "misunderstood" conclusions.

He said the national and international criticism of the mine has provoked "real anger" across west Cumbria, which he understands to be overwhelmingly in favour of the mine going ahead.

The mine, Woodhouse colliery, proposed by the firm West Cumbria Mining to be constructed near Whitehaven, has been the subject of fierce criticism and campaigns for years, with groups such as Extinction Rebellion Cumbria and Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole voicing opposition on a range of grounds, from safety concerns given its proximity to Sellafield, to its projected impact on climate change.

Last month, fresh national and international attention came to the mine, following the Government's announcement that it was not going to intervene in the mine's progress, something that was previously under consideration by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

According to Mr Starkie, this was most certainly the right decision for the Government to take.

"It would have been highly hypocritical of the Government to have called it in," he said.

"We talk about devolution and devolving power to local politicians, so decisions for local people are made by local politicians.

"If the Government steps in on every controversial decision and overrides it, what's the point?

"There is no devolvement of power, if every time you make a decision the Government doesn't like, it's overturned. You've got to be able to self-determine your own decisions."

This is far from a unanimously-held view, however.

Following the news that the Government was not to intervene, there was passionate denunciation of this latest development both locally and internationally.

This anger has been amplified by a sense of what critics of the mine describe as an inconsistent approach to tackling climate change from the Government. The UK will this year host the COP26 United Nations summary on climate change, an event described last week by the new US climate envoy John Kerry as the planet's "last best chance" to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on the horizon.

For some, the Government's decision not to intervene in the planning process will serve to undermine the message that the UK is serious about tackling climate change.

Most recently, John Gummer, Conservative House of Lords peer and chairman of the UK's independent Committee on Climate Change, wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, warning him that the construction of the new mine will have an "appreciable" impact on the country's carbon emissions.

He added that the Government's lack of intervention in the planning process gives a negative impression of the country's climate priorities in the year COP26 is to be held.

Other recent examples of criticism levelled at the Government over the decision not to step in have come from abroad. Late last month, Satyendra Prasad, the UN ambassador from the South Pacific state of Fiji, stated that the west Cumbrian mine going ahead sent the "wrong signal".

As an archipelago of hundreds of islands, Fiji is one of the nations on the climate front line. Recent research carried out by The London School of Economics estimated that across the Pacific Islands, which is in total home to 10 million people, up to 1.7 million could be displaced due to climate change by 2050.

An even more high profile international intervention came earlier last month from renowned climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, who expressed her disappointment at the Government for not having intervened in the decision-making process, adding that it undermined the Government's legal commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

"These vague, insufficient targets long into the future basically mean nothing today," Ms Thunberg wrote on social media.

Criticism has also been forthcoming closer to home following the Government's decision not to intervene in the progress of the mine.

Liberal Democrat MP for the neighbouring constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron, has long been a critic of the proposed mine.

He wrote last month to the president of COP26, Consevative MP Alok Sharma, urging him to join the fight against the mine going ahead.

“How can we possibly stand on the world stage and proclaim that we are leading the fight against catastrophic climate change when we are allowing this to go ahead?" he wrote.

“How can we rightly tell China and others that they must do far more to tackle climate change when we are building a coal mine in our own backyard?"

Reflecting on the headlines generated by the Government's latest decision regarding the mine, Mr Starkie said he was "disappointed" that he felt the conversation on the national and international stage had not been "balanced", overlooking not only the significance of the impact the mine would have on the local economy, but also the nuances of the climate-related issues.

This mine, Mr Starkie says, is set to "underpin an economic revitalisation" in the area.

"This is £160m worth of private sector investment being injected into a post-Covid economy," he said.

"There aren't going to be too many places across the country that are set to get that kind of investment"

"It's going to drive forward the west Cumbrian economy, creating a lot of opportunity for the people who live here."

For Mr Starkie, this has a particular relevance to the debate over the mine because of the areas in question it is set to benefit.

The site of the proposed mine lies very close to some of the country's poorest communities.

Government figures from 2019 indicate that the area of Sandwith North East, near the site of the proposed mine, ranks at number 451 out of 32,844 lower layer super output areas (a small-scale statistical division of communities), placing it just outside the top 1 per cent of most deprived areas in the country.

The nearby Harbour North area of Whitehaven is placed at 943 out of 32,844 LSOAs, placing it inside the top three per cent of the most deprived areas in England.

For Mr Starkie, the fact the site of the proposed mine is close by some of England's - not just Cumbria's - poorest communities is significant, particularly given West Cumbria Mining's stated aim of ensuring local people will get 400 of the 500 jobs the mine is set to create, not to mention further jobs created in the associated supply chain.

"This is about fixing the problem [of local deprivation] permanently by putting people into good, sound, secure employment," Mr Starkie said.

"The mine will be just a part of it. There are housing developers looking at developing that whole site, that will probably transform the whole community," he added.

A number of high profile critics of the mine have challenged the wisdom of supporting the mine's development on the grounds it will create hundreds of jobs.

Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr, said recent that “job creation is absolutely vital to communities", but that the UK should "look forward to the jobs of 21st century, not back to those in declining industries".

Dr Ruth Balogh, representative for Friends of the Earth in the West Cumbria area, also said recently that "west Cumbria badly needs local jobs", but added that these jobs "should be generated by investing in clean energy and building a greener future, not industries that threaten the planet".

Mr Starkie believes there is a place for the mine in the "green energy revolution" that he hopes west Cumbria will play a major role in.

"Whether it's solar, wave, nuclear power - it's all going to need significant amounts of steel," he said, adding that there is more than 200 tons of steel in each wind turbine.

"At the moment, there's no economic way of making steel without coking coal," Mr Starkie said, adding that the product is at present shipped across the world into Europe, from as far away as Australia.

"There's no technologies at the moment, that's why they're digging up coking coal around the world and importing it.

"There's a huge need for steel now, there's a huge need for coking coal. Coming out of Covid, I think there's going to be some huge infrastructure projects.

"The demand for steel now is going to significantly increase," Mr Starkie predicted.

While there are efforts underway to develop a scalable solution for making new steel without coking coal, including emerging technology in Sweden to use hydrogen rather than coal, at present coking coal is still required in the steel production process.

For Mr Starkie, the mine, with a cleaner extraction process than elsewhere in the world, represents the best option for producing a commodity that is still required in modern industry - an industry that will be heavily relied upon in the years to come, including in the creation of green technologies, from wind turbines to SMR and AMR nuclear reactors - which he hopes will hear good news on in the next 12 months.

One other aspect of the wider debate Mr Starkie feels is often overlooked is the conditions placed on the mine's approval by Cumbria County Council.

These conditions, Mr Starkie said, means Woodhouse colliery is set to be the "cleanest coal mine ever created".

Another condition imposed is the fact that the mine only has permission to operate until 2049.

Questions have been raised over the sense of supporting a project with such a shelf life, but Mr Starkie does not agree.

"30 years is three quarters of people's working lives," he said.

"If somebody goes in that mine on day one at 20 years old, they're going to be there potentially until they're 50 years old, that's a significant chunk of someone's working life. "

"There's no guarantee that these technologies coming forward will be ready to meet the demand at that time," he added.

Crucially, Mr Starkie argued, "we need the steel now, and we need it to drive forward green energy projects."

"People have just got to open their eyes, and take a balanced view on this."

Green energy projects are something Mr Starkie hopes Copeland will play a key role in.

"Do I think the Government should be putting money forward to support green energy technology and jobs in Copeland? Absolutely," he said.

"I think they need to underpin the clean energy park and the nuclear aspirations that we've got."

Mr Starkie is confident that quick progress will soon come on the mine, and is anticipating the section 106 legal agreement will be signed between West Cumbria Mining and Cumbria County Council within "weeks".

"I'm hoping that as we come out of Covid, we'll see people on the site this year at surface level, and we'll see the first coal emerge out of that mine in 2022," he said, adding that the firm will likely start employing people "this year".

But the mine still faces significant opposition. Local campaign group South Lakes Action on Climate Change have so far raised more than £27,000 in a bid to bring a new legal challenge against the mine, and while Mr Starkie is convinced any further legal challenges will be "quickly dismissed", it is clear that those who are opposed to the mine's construction are no less motivated to fight its construction.