Plans for a new coal mine in Whitehaven have taken another major blow - as staff have lost their jobs.

A number of people who were employed by West Cumbria Mining have been made redundant.

This includes the majority of staff who were based at the site office at Haig Pit, Kells.

Among those to be laid off is Julie Rayson, who was office manager at the Haig Pit site and had worked there for two years.

She said: “This is the first time I had been out of work since I left school. I’ve always managed to secure employment.

“This is the first time in my life that I’ve been made redundant. It’s a job that I thought was going to be seeing me out until retirement.

“It was a nice little team set up that was going to take us ahead. I got on well with everybody. They were nice people to work for. It’s local and handy.”

Proposals for the mine, put forward by West Cumbria Mining, will now be heard by the planning inspectorate at an inquiry due to be held in September.

It will explore the arguments put forward by supporters and opponents of the project.

Speaking about the redundancies, Mrs Rayson, who is also a Whitehaven town councillor, said: “The investors have been putting money in.

“There’s no production from the mine, which should have been up and running by now, if everything had gone to plan.

“We probably would have been into production by now.

“If everything had gone to plan, they’d be having a return on their investments and producing coking coal.

“Obviously, while they haven’t got any money coming in, and they’re having to fund an inquiry as well. The legal costs are astronomical.

“I totally understand they’ve had to make cuts.

“They’ve had to fork out all this money for legal fees, which is totally unnecessary.”

Mrs Rayson is hopeful that the mine will still go ahead.

She said: “They have met every requirement along the way. It’s already been passed three times.

“I would love it to go ahead, not just for me, but what it would bring to the area, as a town councillor, and the regeneration into the town and extra money that would come in.

“I’m desperate for it to go ahead.”

Mike Starkie, Mayor of Copeland, said: “The mine goes before a public inquiry and my expectation is that none of the evidence has changed that was put in front of the planning panel and the mine will get the go-ahead.

“While this is frustrating, it’s hopefully only a temporary setback.”

Chris Hayes, mayor of Whitehaven, who represents Kells on Whitehaven Town Council, said: “It’s sad to report that jobs have been lost already.

“These people have had to find jobs elsewhere. It’s not going to be easy in this climate. It’s sad.

“I’m all for the mine. We need to try and keep young people around here. These were well paid jobs for local people.

“I appreciate the environmental side. We’ve all got to do our bit.

“But we still need steel and we need coking coal.

“I can’t see how it can be beneficial to travel it across the world to use here.”

The plans were given the green light by Cumbria County Council’s Development Control and Regulation Committee in October 2020, but formal permission was not officially granted.

The county council withdrew support for the mine in May, revealing it will be taking a neutral stance.

Following the inquiry, the planning inspectorate, the body which deals with planning appeals, will present the Government with a recommendation. The final decision will then be left to ministers.

West Cumbria Mining was approached for comment but did not respond.