A FORMER miner gave a powerful testimony of his experiences to the Government’s public inquiry into the Woodhouse Colliery on Wednesday, explaining why it gives him health and safety concerns.

Speaking at the planning inspectorate’s inquiry into West Cumbria Mining’s application for a coking coal mine in Whitehaven, Steve Balogh gave his account of how the process had taken place in the past.

He said: “In the early 70s I went to work in the Dartford Tunnel Second Drive, one of the canaries that went underground to test the equipment that would be used to excavate the Channel Tunnel.

“Any proposal to mine the Main Band Cold Measure must take account of the fact that the levels that remain to be won run very close to the seabed and would have to be mined under equivalent atmospheric pressure.

“We did four-hour shifts at 15 atmospheres which was effective in excluding flooding through the river bed.

Mr Balogh said: “We were paid for six hours each shift because it was necessary to decompress before going anywhere after work. The experience at Dartford informed the arrangements for the work force under the Channel. Injuries sustained at work had to be addressed in a separate A&E decompression suite. Where have West Cumbria Mining made any reference to such a facility?

“If there is anything like as much residual coal as WCM claim can be won, it is perilously close under the sea floor.”

It was indicated that WCM’s CEO Mark Kirkbride would address safety concerns when he gives evidence at a later date. In his speech to the inquiry, elected mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie said: “It has been proven three times that there are no material planning reasons not to approve this mine.

“The future of my community is not only at stake here, but also the credibility of our planning system. I have faith however in both, and look forward to a third robust assessment of this proposition to prove, again, and finally that this is acceptable, desirable, setting a new chapter of hope and prosperity for our community, and facilitating a new era of green jobs through new green infrastructure.”

Mr Starkie said: “The WCM 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. As Mayor I have consistently supported the project and have written to the Prime Minister and others detailing my support over a prolonged period.

“The support from Copeland council, who have a range of experts with extensive knowledge of the local area and sites which West Cumbria Mining are seeking to develop, clearly suggests that they believe that the benefits of the mine outweigh any perceived negative impacts and accordingly the development of the mine is written into the economic vision and strategy of this borough.”

Environmental activist Marianne Birkby spoke for Radiation Free Lakeland: “We’ve been opposing the mine since 2017 not only on a climate basis but the nuclear aspects which we feel really viscerally strongly about.”

“The mine will be below Sellafield’s decades of nuclear waste. Imagine if the subsidence which is expected – West Cumbria Mining say the subsidence is expected – happened. Cumbria would be receiving 70 years of radioactive waste that now sits on the seabed.”