Conservative MPs and local leaders, from constituencies across Britain have spoken out in a letter, where they accuse the Labour Party of attempts to block the approval of a new coking coal mine in West Cumbria.
The letter has been signed by 47 Parliamentarians, alongside local leaders Cllr Mike Johnson, Deputy Leader Allerdale Borough Council, Mayor Starkie, Elected Mayor, Copeland Borough Council and Ben Houchen, Elected Mayor,Tees Valley and has been sent to Stewart Young the Labour leader of Cumbria County Council - the local authority that has already approved planning for the West Cumbria Mine three times.
Those signing the letter say that the "West Cumbria mine fits perfectly with the Government agendas for net zero by 2050 and levelling up; with our the 10 point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and with the aim to upskill our workforce to strengthen regional and local economies."
They also say that "actions of the Labour-run Cumbria County Council have been backed by Senior Labour politicians such as the Shadow Business Secretary Ed Milliband, and Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds."
On the decision to reassess the West Cumbria Mining planning application, the letter states: "Despite having had two months to consider the impacts of the sixth carbon budget, and a month to consider the threat of legal challenge from SLACC – which has in any case endured throughout – and having had significant recent national and international interest, there was no sign of redetermination.
"This can only lead us to the suggestion that this was a political decision relating to a quasi-judicial process."
Mark Jenkinson MP, the Member of Parliament for Workington said “Labour claims to represent working class people. What they are really doing over the mine is playing politics with ordinary people’s lives. This stance is putting much needed future jobs and investment at risk.
"I am incredibly disappointed by Cumbria County Council’s short- sighted and eleventh- hour decision to consider the application for Woodhouse Colliery for a fourth time. I am equally disappointed by senior Labour politicians wading into what should be a local and apolitical planning issue for Cumbria.”
Trudy Harrison MP, the Member of Parliament for Copeland said “As the requirement for steel and dependence on coking coal continues, it makes no sense to turn a blind eye and offshore our emissions whilst turning away £165 million of inward investment. West Cumbria Mine will be a world leading, low emission, environmentally conscious development in a world where the transition from fossil fuel dependency to clean energy generation is wholly reliant on steel, for the long- term.”
Simon Fell MP, the Member of Parliament for Barrow & Furness said “Steel underpins every single renewable technology that we need to employ to hit our Net Zero target and we cannot make that steel without coking coal. The choice we face is whether to offshore the carbon debt of mining coking coal to countries like Russia and accept the huge environmental and humanitarian cost of doing so, or to allow this mine to proceed and wrap our own high environmental standards around it. We simply can’t pretend that this is all someone else’s problem, and pat ourselves on the back for hitting Net Zero 2050 while outsourcing the problem elsewhere.”
John Stevenson MP, the Member of Parliament for Carlisle said “This is a significant investment which will make a substantial difference to the local cumbrian economy and the lives of many individuals and families who live there. As has been said many times this is coking coal used for a particular purpose which would otherwise have to be imported with all the implications for carbon targets. There are therefore a variety of benefits to home mining that can fit in with our carbon commitments”
Mike Starkie, the Elected Mayor for Copeland said “Last week Cumbria County Council should have issued the relevant permits in line with the planning decision to West Cumbria Mining., It is shocking that instead of doing just that they have sent it back to the planning panel to reconsider for a fourth time. Sadly this is typical of a council that has weak leadership and contributed so little to the development and growth of the local economy. I have stated on numerous occasions Cumbria County Council are not fit for purpose and this decision to delay and put at risk huge investment and jobs into our local economy is just another example of how poor they are. Local Government Reform and the demise of Cumbria County Council will not come a moment too soon.”
Mike Johnson, Deputy Leader of Allerdale Borough Council said “It is staggering that Cumbria County Council feels the need to revisit this planning application for a fourth time, having had it approved three times already. This feels like a wholly unnecessary process and not the best use of public funds.
"I would be interested to know who has made this decision and why?
"As Deputy Leader of Allerdale Borough Council, I was to see growth. The jobs and the investment that West Cumbria Mining will provide is certainly welcome by me.”
In response to the letter, Copeland Labour said: "This is utterly disgraceful Trump-style fake news and deception from the unelected Tory Mayor Mike Starkie and his Conservative pals.
"He campaigns against Labour, when:
"The Labour led County Council has already approved the mine on numerous occasions.
"Copeland Labour councillors support the mine.
"The Leader of the Conservatives at County Council voted Against the mine.
"His Conservative Government is actually opposed to the mine.
"This shows Starkie is more interested in political point scoring than the mine actually happening.
"The Conservatives have an 80 Seat majority in Parliament. They have the Government. The Copeland MP. They have the unelected Tory Mayor of Copeland.
"And they are pretending that it is Labour preventing the mine and that Councillor Stewart Young has more power than all of the above combined. Come on.
"Writing letters? Asking people to sign petitions? They are the national Governing party? Are they really that weak?
"They honestly can't care about the mine. If they did, they would be on the phone to the Government. All they care about is a few extra votes in May.
"It really is pathetic political point scoring from the unelected Tory Mayor Mike Starkie."
Here's the letter in full:
Councillor Stewart Young Cumbria County Council Cumbria House,
117 Botchergate, Carlisle,
Cumbria CA1 1RD
18th February 2021
We write with concerns around Cumbria County Council’s recent decision to consider the application for Woodhouse Colliery for a fourth time which, regardless of the decision, now represents a serious risk to Cumbria’s economic growth, diversification of the West Cumbrian jobs market, and inward investment to Cumbria.
The application was previously approved on 19 March 2019, 31 October 2019 and 2 October 2020. Your press office issued the following statement:
"After the receipt and consideration of new information, Cumbria County Council’s Development Control and Regulation (DC&R) Committee will now reconsider the planning application by West Cumbria Mining to create a metallurgical coal mine off the coast near Whitehaven.
This decision has been taken because in December 2020, the Government’s Climate Change Committee released its report on its recommendations for the Sixth Carbon Budget, a requirement under the Climate Change Act.
The report, among 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 that the planning application should be reconsidered by DC&R.”
But the email sent to MPs and members of the Development Control and Regulation Committee sets a different tone:
“Following the recent threat of legal challenge relating to the determination of the West Cumbria Mine, and having received formal planning and legal advice on this challenge and given full due consideration, it has been decided to return the West Cumbria Mining planning application back to Committee for a redetermination. This is in order to take into account the recommendations of the Committee for Climate Change which published its report (the Report) on its recommendations for the UK sixth carbon budget in December 2020, two months after Development Control and Regulations Committee made its last decision, but before the Secretary of State (MHCLG) lifted the Article 31 Holding Direction. The recommendations of the Report have yet to be considered by the UK Government but may have implications for the planning merits of this case.”
This is, of course, not true and is immaterial to the application – it is not for the Council to ‘take into account’ recommendations that the Government is yet to consider, and may not adopt. Should they adopt them there is still no material impact on this development, and we are concerned that there is a level of misunderstanding around the report which could leave the council susceptible to legal challenge.
It is not for Cumbria County Council to determine national policy.
The Climate Change Committee published their Sixth Carbon Budget on 9th December 2020, setting out a number of pathways to reducing emissions. The budget is clear that the pathways are for guidance only, and that each sector has multiple options.
Coking coal is mentioned just once in the report, and neither the report or the accompanying ‘Policies for the Sixth Carbon Budget’ present a viable alternative to coking coal in the steel-making process.
On the 7th January 2021, Richard Buxton Solicitors wrote to Cumbria County Council on behalf of South Lakes Action on Climate Change – Towards Transition. In their letter they seek to suggest that sectoral pathways offer fixed emissions targets, with coal mining having a ‘budget’ that the opening of the Woodhouse Colliery would then exceed. This is, as you know, categorically not the case.
Richard Buxton also assert that the conclusions from your officers run contrary to the report from the Committee on Climate Change, which again can be seen in the figures that they provide to be untrue.
No one disputes that the requirement for coking coal will reduce as we decarbonise the steel-making process. But your officers remain absolutely correct in their assertion that there is no commercial alternative to coking coal in some parts of the steel-making process, and that current large scale trials for substitution relate only to one part of the process – and as the figures that Richard Buxton rely on show, that accounts for only 5% of the reduction. Other reductions come from substitution – such as the switch to EAF that still requires the addition of coke – or from CCS, which does not reduce the need for coking coal but mitigates the impacts.
As you will know, the budget is also clear that while it recommends that the UK’s share of International Aviation and Shipping emissions should be properly accounted for in the sixth carbon budget, they are not.
On the 29th January 2021 Lord Deben wrote, as Chair of the Climate Change Committee, to Robert Jenrick setting out his opinion on the Woodhouse Colliery. That opinion, which is not supported by any accompanying methodology or data for his assertions, is contrary to multiple expert opinion on import substitution. It also fails to account for shipping emissions.
His opinion is contradictory in that he acknowledges, as does his sixth carbon budget, that coking coal will continue to be used in steelmaking past 2035, while its impact should be mitigated. But he goes on to say that his report has the following implication for coking coal use in the UK:
“Coking coal use in steelmaking could be displaced completely by 2035, using a combination of hydrogen direct reduction and electric arc furnace technology to meet our recommendation that UK ore-based steelmaking be near-zero emissions by 2035.”
As we have clearly set out, this is demonstrably untrue. It is also not what the report says, which is that:
“Government should target near-zero emissions from ore-based steelmaking in the UK by 2035. This could include CCS applied with high capture and application rates.”
Lord Deben also says in his letter that the mine will have an ‘appreciable impact’ on UK carbon targets, West Cumbria Mining assert that, through their expected emissions reductions, their resulting emissions will contribute to less than 0.1% to the UK’s sixth carbon budget.
The report specifically acknowledges ongoing use of coking coal but suggests CCS to mitigate the impacts. For clarity, electric arc furnace technology does not remove the requirement for coking coal – either in new steel or in wholly recycled steel, and expert reports commissioned by all sides in the planning application attest to that. While the coking coal from Whitehaven is destined for steelmaking, it is also worth pointing out that UK usage of coking coal is much wider, from cement production to electric vehicle car batteries – and even the electrodes for the electric arc furnaces on which we’ll rely.
This letter, alongside others, brought national and international interest to bear. This included the Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband, appearing on Andrew Marr on Sunday on Sunday 7th February to tell us that Labour’s position is that this mine should not go ahead.
As of last week, sources from inside and outside your council tell us that the formal grant of planning permission was just hours away. Despite having had two months to consider the impacts of the sixth carbon budget, and a month to consider the threat of legal challenge from SLACC – which has in any case endured throughout – and having had significant recent national and international interest, there was no sign of redetermination.
This can only lead us to the suggestion that this was a political decision relating to a quasi-judicial process. We know that you will be keen to disprove this, so are therefore asking you to provide us with, or publish, the legal and planning advice that your internal emails tell us have been received.
We call on Cumbria County Council to now issue the formal grant of planning permission to West Cumbria Mining following the decision of the Development Control and Regulation Committee on October 2nd 2020 – which was the third such granting of approval by the council for the this project, as you will know.
Trudy Harrison MP
Member of Parliament Copeland
John Stevenson MP
Member of Parliament Carlisle
Richard Holden MP
Member of Parliament North West Durham
Dehenna Davison MP
Member of Parliament Bishop Auckland
Mark Jenkinson MP
Member of Parliament Workington
Councillor Mike Johnson
Allerdale Borough Council
Jacob Young MP
Member of Parliament Redcar
Paul Howell MP
Member of Parliament Sedgefield
Simon Fell MP
Member of Parliament Barrow in Furness
Mayor Mike Starkie
Copeland Borough Council
Tees Valley Mayor
Heather Wheeler MP
Member of Parliament South Derbyshire
Matt Vickers MP
Member of Parliament Stockton South
Lee Anderson MP
Member of Parliament Ashfield
Brendan Clarke-Smith MP
Member of Parliament Bassetlaw
Paul Maynard MP
Member of Parliament Blackpool North and Cleveleys
Chris Green MP
Member of Parliament Bolton West
Ian Levy MP
Member of Parliament Blyth Valley
Aaron Bell MP
Member of Parliament Newcastle-under-Lyme
Andrea Jenkyns MP
Member of Parliament Morley and Outwood
The Rt Hon Jake Berry MP
Member of Parliament Rossendale and Darwen
Ben Bradley MP
Member of Parliament Mansfield
Philip Davies MP
Member of Parliament Shipley
James Daly MP
Member of Parliament Bury North
Dr Kieran Mullan MP
Member of Parliament Crewe and Nantwich
Craig Whittaker MP
Member of Parliament Calder Valley
Johnathan Gullis MP
Member of Parliament Stoke-on-Trent North
Nick Fletcher MP
Member of Parliament Don Valley
House of Commons London SW1A 0AA
Craig Mackinlay MP
Member of Parliament South Thanet
Scott Benton MP
Member of Parliament Blackpool South
Paul Bristow MP
Member of Parliament Peterborough
Imran Khan MP
Member of Parliament Wakefield
Damien Moore MP
Member of Parliament Southport
Karl McCartney MP
Member of Parliament Lincoln
Alec Shelbrooke MP
Member of Parliament Elmet and Rothwell
The Rt Hon Robert Goodwill MP
Member of Parliament Scarborough and Whitby
James Grundy MP
Member of Parliament Leigh
Crispin Blunt MP
Member of Parliament Reigate
Christian Wakeford MP
Member of Parliament Bury South
Simon Baynes MP
Member of Parliament Clwyd South
The Viscount Ridley DL
Craig Tracey MP
Member of Parliament North Warwickshire
The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP
Member of Parliament Harlow
Andrew Percy MP
Member of Parliament Brigg and Goole
Member of Parliament Burnley
The Rt. Hon the Lord Lilley
House of Commons London SW1A 0AA
Holly Mumby-Croft MP
Member of Parliament Scunthorpe
Mark Menzies MP
Member of Parliament Fylde
Mark Eastwood MP
Member of Parliament Dewsbury
The Rt Hon. the Lord Henley