In the week that developers announced they planned to start work later this year on the UK’s largest solar farm, at Cleve Hill, near Faversham, it might seem baffling the government has chosen not to call in proposals for a deep coal mine in north-west England.
The decision by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, not to intervene after Cumbria County Council approved West Cumbria Mining’s application for the mine, near Whitehaven, has been roundly slated by conservation groups.
The project has drawn some 2,300 objections since 2017, including from such groups as Friends of the Earth, WWF, Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion. On Wednesday last week (January 13), however, CCC said it had been told there would be no governmental call-in.
With coal-powered electricity generation due to end by 2024, the Cumbrian coal will be used in British and European steelmaking – a process WCM claims will cut emissions caused by the wider transport of steel.
The argument has cut no ice with environmental groups, however, which say the mine could hinder alignment of the country’s steel sector with the 2050 net-zero target.
Doug Parr, of Greenpeace UK, told The Independent: “We are in a climate emergency and in no way, shape, or form should this or any new coal mine be granted planning permission.
“Of course, job creation is absolutely vital to communities, but we must look forward to the jobs of the 21st century, not back to those in declining industries. Robert Jenrick needs to immediately reverse his decision not to call this in and then can the project completely.”
Friends of the Earth’s Tony Bosworth agreed: “Mr Jenrick’s refusal to call in this unnecessary and climate-wrecking coal mine shows jaw-dropping inconsistency… last month the government said it would no longer support fossil fuel projects overseas.
“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.”
The government approach is also galling for those who battled Cleve Hill Solar Park, which, if it goes ahead, will industrialise almost 1,000 acres of the North Kent Marshes – an area of international importance to wildlife.
That scheme was promoted by developers, supporters and Whitehall alike as making a substantial contribution of renewable energy as the UK looked to achieve its net-zero target, so the non-intervention in the coal-mine process seems bafflingly inconsistent.
Some might think Mr Jenrick’s reported statement relating to the mine in which he said the government was “committed to giving more power to councils to make their own decisions on planning issues” was little more than him washing his hands of the wider matters.
The Cumbrian development would be the first deep coal mine to be developed in this country for 30 years should it go ahead. At Cleve Hill, meanwhile, developers are apparently concentrating on the detailed design of their solar farm.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021