Cumbria County Council has announced it will reconsider the plans for the Woodhouse Colliery coal mine following “new information”.

The council’s decision in March 2019 to approve the £165m ($228m) development – which will be Britain’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years – received widespread condemnation for going against the UK’s pledge to phase-out high-polluting fossil fuels such as coal.

Following legal challenges from campaigners and concerns from environmental groups, developer West Cumbria Mining (WCM) was forced to amend its planning application for the facility, which the council once again approved in October last year.

The government then stepped in to review the planning permission, but UK housing secretary Robert Jenrick decided not to call-in the application on 6 January as he believes the final decision should remain with the local authority.


Cumbria County Council to reconsider coal mine plans following Climate Change Committee report

But, following the receipt and consideration of new information, the council said its Development Control and Regulation (DC&R) Committee will now reconsider the planning application to create the metallurgical coal mine off the coast near Whitehaven.

A council spokesman said: “This decision has been taken because in December 2020, the government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) released its report on its recommendations for the Sixth Carbon Budget, a requirement under the Climate Change Act.

“The report, amongst other things, sets out the volume of greenhouse gases the UK aims to emit during 2033-2037.

“This new information has been received prior to the issue of the formal decision notice on the application. In light of this, the council has decided the planning application should be reconsidered by DC&R.”

Reacting to the latest announcement, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist Doug Parr said if the council should change its mind on the development, it’s a U-turn that would be “very welcome”.

“It’s absolutely right that the county should reconsider plans for a new coal mine in light of evidence demonstrating how damaging this would be for our climate, and for the UK’s international reputation,” he added.

“Any such shift does not let the government off the hook, though. Ministers should be ashamed of their failure to step in on an issue of obvious international significance.

“Even if the coal mine is canned by Cumbria, this is still a global embarrassment for the UK in a year when we were supposed to be setting an example on climate action for the world to follow.”


Cumbria County Council decision follows warning to UK prime minister over coal mine

The announcement comes after former Nasa scientist Dr James Hansen wrote a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week, warning him that he risks “humiliation” if the UK proceeds with plans to open the coal mine.

Dr Hansen, who is often referred to as the “father of global warming”, called on the prime minister to “follow the science” and block the development.

With Britain set to host this year’s UN climate change conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Dr Hansen told Johnson he has “a chance to change the course of our climate trajectory”, and earn the UK and himself “historic accolades” – or he can stick with business-almost-as-usual and be “vilified in the streets of Glasgow, London, and around the world”.

“It would be easy to achieve this latter ignominy and humiliation,” added Dr Hansen. “Just continue with the plan to open a new coal mine in Cumbria and continue to invest funds of the British public in fossil fuel projects overseas, in contemptuous disregard of the future of young people and nature.

“The contrary path is not so easy, but, with your leadership, it is realistic. And by providing the acumen and gumption required to change our course, you will earn a special place in history and the gratitude of young people.”

CCC chairman Lord Deben also wrote a letter to the government on 29 January warning it over the consequences of allowing the coal mine to proceed.

It said the opening of the coal mine will increase global emissions and have an appreciable impact on the UK’s legally-binding carbon budgets – and increase the nation’s emissions by 0.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year. That figure is greater than the level of annual emissions the CCC has projected from all open UK coal mines up until 2050.

The CCC believes the decision to award planning permission to 2049 will commit the UK to emissions from coking coal, for which there may be no domestic use after 2035, with 85% of the coal planned for export to Europe.