PLANS to construct a new coal mine south of Whitehaven by the end of 2018 are forging ahead with the latest move being the drilling of two boreholes out at sea, 2km off St Bees Head.

A prospective site for the new mine is yet to be decided though work on developing a planning application has already begun and a formal application is scheduled for the last quarter of 2016. The mining company has already established via its initial borehole testing on land that there are 71million tonnes of high quality coking coal resources within the onshore licence area.

The temporary boreholes will allow West Cumbria Mining to extract from the sea bed, coal and rock samples for further testing. Another will be sunk on land, sited on the headland to the west of Rottington.

Work on the offshore sites will last for no more than four weeks from the arrival of the rig and a specialist ocean-going jack-up barge, which arrived at Workington Port on Friday, having been towed up from the south coast. It is expected to be moved to its position off St Bees Head at the end of this week.

The barge provides a solid platform to work from, and is equipped with 42m-long steel legs from which the barge deck can be jacked up and down, so that the deck sits above the waves at all times. A fast crew and supply boat will be operated out of Whitehaven to support the operations.

It is also planned to create a local liaison group of interested local volunteers who would meet regularly with WCM to engage with the development and planning process for the mine and have the opportunity for some input into it. Anyone who wishes to be part of such a group can email or call 01444 410534.

West Cumbria Mining’s chief executive Mark Kirkbride said: “There are quite a few steps to go through before being able to have the mine up and running but they are all important in establishing coal quality and quantity, as well as ensuring that we have taken care of the environment.”

Studies into the flora and fauna of the Whitehaven and St Bees area are being conducted in conjunction with environment specialists “so we can ensure the development of a new mine would have no negative impacts on the existing ecology.”

The company already has an office at Sneckyeat industrial estate, Hensingham and has recently appointed Peter Altounyan as technical director who will oversee site operations and also host a series of drop in sessions for the public to be held fortnightly at Haig Museum (2-4pm) every second Wednesday. Mr Altounyan, a former rock mechanics engineer with British Coal, has worked for 40 years in the coal industry, at home and abroad.

Said Mr Kirkbride: “We have been busy recruiting into our technical and project teams, and will continue to do so as the project moves forwards, so those with relevant skills and experience should keep an eye on our website:

“In addition to the fortnightly informal surgeries, we are also planning our next public open sessions, where we intend to provide further details on the development of the mine designs, the potential locations for the mine access and the associated infrastructure.”