A proposed new coal mine in Cumbria gained government approval on 7 December 2022. Levelling up secretary Michael Gove approved the Woodhouse Colliery project, which will be the UK’s first new coal mine for three decades. The new mine, near Whitehaven, will cost around £165 million to build and will create around 500 new jobs in the area. Around 100 of these jobs are expected to be taken by people from outside the local area. Once operational, it will produce in the region of 2.8 million tonnes of coking coal per year, most of which will be used in the steelmaking industry. The mine will also produce an estimated 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

At least 85% of the coal produced at the mine will be exported, because UK steelmakers have already rejected the coal, which has a high sulphur content.    The coal is also unlikely to be exported to Europe, because most European steelmakers are now using electric arc furnaces and renewable energy, rather than coal to make new steel.  So the mine is not likely to help with reducing the need for coal to be imported to the UK.

The ministerial decision is almost certain to be appealed, with environmental groups arguing that the UK would risk breaching its target for reaching net zero emissions by 2050 if the mine is allowed to go ahead.  Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary said that Mr Gove’s decision signalled “the death knell of any claims this government has to climate leadership.”  Meanwhile, CEO of environmental law firm Client Earth, Laura Clarke said the decision “Makes no sense in terms of the science, the economics, or indeed the UK’s legally binding net a zero targets.”   Meanwhile, Chairman of the UK's Climate Change Committee, Lord Deben said that it was “another example of Britain saying one thing and doing another.”

When burned, coal produces almost double the amount of carbon dioxide as natural gas.  This is why any new coal mining operations are seen as a threat to the UK’s net zero targets.  Alok Sharma has pointed out that as many as 6,000 new lbs could be created by developing green industries in the area instead.

Protesters against the mine intend to gather in Penrith, Cumbria on 9 December and at the proposed site of the mine, outside Whitehaven on 10 December.

Photo of Whitehaven Harbour 229642326 © Geoffrey Allerton |

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