Environmental campaigners and a local MP have criticised the government’s “jaw-dropping” decision not to block the building of a “climate-wrecking coal mine”.
The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, decided on Wednesday not to challenge the planning application for a new coal mine in Cumbria, despite opposition from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron.
The Liberal Democrat MP, who is the party’s spokesperson for environment and communities issues, had written to Jenrick urging him to call in the plans by West Cumbria Mining, which could now be granted formal permission by Cumbria county council.
Farron said: “This decision is a complete disaster for our children’s future – an almighty backwards step in the fight against climate change.
“It’s utter and rank hypocrisy for this Conservative government to claim one minute that they care about protecting our environment, and in the next give the green light to a deep coal mine.”
Tony Bosworth, a Friends of the Earth climate change campaigner, said the decision shows “jaw-dropping inconsistency” after the government rejected plans for an opencast mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland last year. The government’s official report on the mine in September 2020 said the mine would not have been “environmentally acceptable”.
Speaking about the plans in Cumbria, Bosworth said: “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, who represents Friends of the Earth in the West Cumbria area, described the government’s decision as “astonishing and desperately disappointing”.
She said: “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.”
Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr, called on Jenrick to “immediately reverse his decision not to call this in”.
“Claims that it will be carbon neutral are like claiming an oil rig is a wind turbine,” he said.
“Of course, job creation is absolutely vital to communities but we must look forward to the jobs of 21st century, not back to those in declining industries.”
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said in response: “The general approach of the secretary of state is not to interfere with the decision-making process of local councils on planning matters. The government’s position is that these matters are generally best determined locally, by local councils that know their own area best, rather than by central government.
“The secretary of state’s power to call in a case will be used very selectively, and in general only if planning issues of more than local importance are involved.”
The mine would be used to extract coking coal from beneath the Irish Sea for steel production.