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Friends of the Earth reacts to Cumbrian coal mine application, after council gives approval

news release

The government should ‘call in’ a planning application for a controversial coal mine in Cumbria, Friends of the Earth said today, following a decision by the county council to approve it. 

Last month the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick refused permission for an opencast coal mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland, saying it was “not environmentally acceptable”. 

Friends of the Earth north west campaigner Estelle Worthington said:  

“It’s terrible that this new coal mine has been given the go-ahead in the middle of a climate crisis. 

“The Secretary of State must intervene and call in this unnecessary and destructive application or else it contradicts everything the government like to say about taking climate change seriously. 

“Just last month the government refused planning permission for a Northumberland coal mine, saying it was ‘not environmentally acceptable’ and there was little evidence of demand for the coal from industry beyond the very short-term. 

“It’s this short-term thinking for a mine with a lifespan that takes us to the stroke of midnight on the government’s target to be net zero by 2050 that lets climate change run rampant. We obviously have to leave coal and other fossil fuels in the ground. Instead we need to invest in a clean and fairer future. A green economy can create many thousands of jobs while protecting us all from climate breakdown.” 

Friends of the Earth state numerous reasons why a new, deep, coal mine off the coast at St Bees in Cumbria should be rejected, including:  

  • Coal must be left in the ground to help the UK play its part in avoiding catastrophic climate change  
  • A new coal mine means more climate-wrecking emissions  
  • There are huge doubts over a market for the mine’s coal beyond the very short-term, despite the 29-year life span proposed for the mine 
  • Cumbria should invest in long-term, green jobs for the future 


For more information contact the Friends of the Earth press office on 020 7566 1649 / 07718 394786 (out of hours – please do not text this number) or by emailing  

Notes to editors:

  1. Reasons why the mining application should be rejected include:  
    1. Coal must be left in the ground to help the UK play its part in avoiding catastrophic climate change  
    2. The climate emergency is one of the biggest threats the planet faces, and as it intensifies extreme weather events such as record heat waves, wildfires, flooding and droughts are becoming ever more common. 
    3. If we are to have any chance of avoiding the worst excesses of climate change, we must rapidly move away from fossil fuels – which means leaving coal in the ground.  
    4. A new coal mine means more climate-wrecking emissions  
  2. West Cumbria Mining [WCM] claim the coal they produce will substitute for imported coal. For example, in their revised Environmental Statement, they state:  “the coal produced by WCM would replace an equivalent volume of coal that is used in the UK and Europe which is currently being imported primarily from the east coast of the USA”. 
  3. However, it is far more likely that the coal mined by WCM would be in addition to coal-mined elsewhere, not instead.  And if the global supply of coal increases, prices are likely to fall – even if only slightly – meaning it is likely that more coal will be burned overall, which will lead to increased carbon emissions.   
  4. This point has been echoed by two of the UK’s leading academic experts in this area: Professor Paul Ekins of University College London (a former deputy director of the UK Energy Research Centre) and Professor John Barrett of the University of Leeds (a UK Government and UN expert on carbon accounting) in submissions on this planning application.  
  5. Professor Barrett adds that adding additional coal to the global market would be likely to outweigh any possible greenhouse gas savings from coal not having to be transported so far.  
  6. There are huge doubts over a market for the mine’s coal beyond the very short-term 
  7. West Cumbria Mining claims:  
    1. “the future requirements for metallurgical coal for steelmaking are strong, and will continue to be until at least the end of the century”
    2. However, in his recent rejection of planning permission for an opencast coalmine at Highthorn, (Druridge Bay) in Northumberland, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick concluded:  “there is limited objective evidence that the demand for coal for industrial purposes will remain at current levels beyond the very short term” 
  8. Cumbria’s planning officers do not seem to have taken the Secretary of State’s views into account in their recommendation. 
  9. Steel production is already starting to move beyond using coal: the first plant trialling using hydrogen produced from renewable electricity instead of coal has recently opened in Sweden. 
  10. If there is not demand for coal produced beyond the very short term and the mine risks becoming a white elephant, it would be hard to see how the granting of planning permission can be justified. 
  11. Cumbria should invest in long-term, green jobs for the future 
    1. New jobs in West Cumbria are desperately needed, especially as the region’s economy emerges from the Coronavirus pandemic. But these should be in industries that have a long-term future.   
    2. In the Copeland area alone, Friends of the Earth estimates insulation needs to be upgraded in 2,310 homes per year if we are to end the misery of cold, expensive-to-heat homes, and ensure all are properly insulated by 2030. This represents a real economic opportunity for the region, as well as a way of cutting carbon and tackling the climate emergency. 
    3. What the region desperately needs, and what Cumbria County Council should urgently look to introduce, is jobs in green industries that are secure well into the future.    
      Cumbria County Council approved the application by West Cumbria Mining to extract coking coal from the seabed off St Bees on 19 March 2019.  
  12. Friends of the Earth is an international community dedicated to the protection of the natural world and the wellbeing of everyone in it. We bring together more than two million people in 75 countries, combining people power all over the world to transform local actions into global impact. For more information visit: follow us at @friends_earth, or like our Facebook page. 

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