TUESDAY September 7 sees the opening of the public inquiry into plans to mine for coking coal off the Cumbrian coast.

The inquiry was called by the Planning Inspectorate after local government secretary Robert Jenrick “called in” the decision in March, taking it out of Cumbria County Council’s hands.

Mr Jenrick’s ruling cited new climate change advice.

The main bodies submitting evidence will be the county council, West Cumbria Mining and campaign group South Lakeland Against Climate Change.

Supporters argue that extracting coking coal in West Cumbria will reduce domestic industry’s reliance on imported coal, thus cutting carbon emissions. But opponents say the amount of coking coal that would be extracted each year will greatly exceed domestic demand with only about 15% expected to be supplied to UK-based firms.

In a letter to the county council in the spring the Department of Communities, Housing and Local Government advised that Mr Jenrick wanted to know how the plans would sit with the government’s climate change commitments.

The inquiry is set to last about a fortnight but its conclusions might not be published until next year.

Here we present opposing arguments put forward by two people who will be giving evidence to the public inquiry.


Whitehaven News:

FLASHBACK: The then international trade secretary Dr Liam Fox MP and Trudy Harrison visit WCM Ltd


Mrs Harrison has been Copeland’s Conservative MP since 2016. Born and bred in the borough, she has been a passionate backer of the West Cumbria Mining plans and will be speaking in favour at the public inquiry.

Home-sourced steel vital for the future

At the heart of this debate is an industry as old as industry itself, indeed a technology which was first deployed in Workington, using the manufacturing process named after its founder, the (Henry) Bessemer blast furnace.

The steel industry has come a long way since 1870; it is now the second-most-used material, pipped only by concrete. In a world ever taller, stronger and more advanced, steel aids every part of our lives and livelihoods every moment of every day. Every bit of research leads me to believe our reliance on steel will increase, especially as we rightly transition from fossil fuel dependency to low-carbon alternatives.

As the UK embarks on its Green Industrial Revolution, ticking off the Ten Point Plan, setting the pathway to net-zero and the levelling up agenda for the north, many across Copeland believe that a sustainable indigenous steel industry is of great importance and a very exciting prospect. Our Energy Coast combines renewable and low-carbon technologies, all of which need steel. The ambitious 40GW of wind power generation will require hundreds of turbines, but – with an average of 220 tonnes of steel needed to build a single turbine – timely and affordable execution will depend on our ability to make or procure vast quantities of the correct type and grade of steel; recently the government nationalised a key part of the steel industry (Sheffield Forgemasters) to secure reliable supplies for our critical naval renewal programme.

West Cumbria Mining’s Woodhouse Colliery will harness the most modern of technologies too, and will be the world’s first net-carbon-zero operational underground metallurgical coal mine, from day one. The mine will use renewable electricity, methane capture and elimination, on-site mine gas power generation and bio-fuel sustainable solutions. This would once again place the UK in a world-leading position during the crucial transition period for the steel industry.

Leading industry analysts Wood Mackenzie forecast global demand for steel to continue to grow by 0.6% per annum and for metallurgical coal to remain consistent through until 2050.

For example, we would need 180,000 tonnes of steel to build the British Rolls-Royce led 440MW Small Modular Reactor, with a plan for 10 of these SMRs by 2035 alone.

Nuclear is what we do best in Copeland. We proudly call ourselves the Centre of Nuclear Excellence. But we also recognise our limitations, due in large part to a somewhat reduced steel industry. Constructing a pressure vessel is a distant memory, resulting in an uncomfortable dependency on oversees partners. My family (miner, metallurgist, engineer and nuclear welder to name a few) and thousands in my community demonstrate a pedigree affirming precision manufacturing in the world’s most difficult-to-access environments. Through necessity we are perfecting robotics and remotely operated vehicles across land, in water and through the air.

We currently import 2.177 million tonnes of coking coal a year according to BEIS, with the biggest sources being Russia, the US and Australia, with significant emissions from the thousands of miles of fossil-fuelled train and shipped transportation. A UK source of 3.0 Mt of coke would save approximately 150,000 tonnes pa of CO2.

During the year of COP26, it is right to shine a light on carbon- intensive industries, with steel making responsible for around 6.7% of global CO2, and to strive for the research and development towards cleaner, greener alternatives. A specific, measurable, achievable, resourced and timebound roadmap to net zero compliant steel would be both SMART and illuminating. But in parallel, when the private sector is keen to invest £165m in West Cumbria, potentially creating 532 direct jobs and more than 1,600 in-direct jobs, and then contributing £1.8bn to GDP in the first 10 years to develop a source of essential and particularly high-quality metallurgical coal – never to be used in power stations anywhere, ever – Copeland is keen to welcome Woodhouse Colliery.


Whitehaven News:

AGAINST: A protest by Keep Cumbria Coal in The Hole in 2019, at which a polar bear (Sam Morris) tore up the Paris Climate Agreement at West Cumbria Mining’s offices at Haig Pit site in Whitehaven, watched by Marianne Birkby, left, and protester Ged


John Ashton is an independent writer and speaker, who has recently returned to the northeast after a career in diplomacy. From 2006-2012, under the Labour and Coalition governments, he was the UK Special Envoy on Climate Change. He will speak at the public inquiry and as preparation has been making regular visits to West Cumbria.

The jobs promise is a false one, like so many before

It is obvious to any visitor that West Cumbria needs jobs. When a fairy godmother flies in and promises ready-made jobs in a new coal mine, heads are bound to turn.

But this promise is false, like so many before it. At next week’s Public Inquiry West Cumbria should reject it once and for all. The proposed Woodhouse pit may bring a few jobs for a few years. But they would be jobs in a dead-end industry; and they would come at the cost of yet more dashed hopes. West Cumbria has had enough of those.

In the northeast we, too, have coal in our blood. Coal made us strong. Our coal and yours built our country. In hard times we stood together. Miners from Jarrow and Whitehaven strode side by side on the Hunger Marches.

But we said “no” to a new opencast pit at Druridge Bay on our treasured coast. The talents of our people, the richness of our history, the bounty of our fields and seas, the wind that sweeps our big sky are worth more to us now than all the coal still in the ground.

The Druridge Bay proposal came from a local company. There is nothing local about West Cumbria Mining Limited. Its very name is a mask. Its parent company is based in a Caribbean tax haven. It is a vehicle for private equity speculators from the world of Australian mining, which holds nothing sacred but its profits. Wherever this industry knocks on the door it comes to take not to give.

WCM promises jobs for a generation. It cannot make that promise. The steel industry knows it has to get out of coal and is transforming itself. A combination of hydrogen and electric arc recycling will displace coal well before mid century. When the market goes, the jobs will go.

WCM says its mine will actually help with climate change, and that more coal would otherwise be imported. But nearly all its output will be shipped abroad. No other mine will close when Woodhouse opens. Any new supply of cheap coal will just push down the price of carbon-intensive steel and slow the shift to climate-friendly alternatives. And we certainly do not need Woodhouse coal for the steel to make wind turbines.

WCM are either fooling themselves on climate or taking us for fools.

West Cumbria can do better. Today its treasure, like ours in the northeast, lies not under the ground but in plain sight.

In majesty and beauty, the coast from St Bees to the Solway matches (well, almost) anything in Northumberland. In its roads and wagonways, towns, harbours and monuments, our entire national story tells itself, from the Romans to the industries that brought fame and prosperity to our country.

An upgraded coastal line from Carlisle to Barrow would be one of the great panoramic railways, an artery for the area and a magnet for visitors.

Hadrian’s Wall draws visitors from around the world, mostly to Northumberland. But the story of how the Romans defended their frontier against the seaborne raiders who tried to outflank the Wall still lies untold under the soil, at sites like Alauna by Maryport. A window on history waiting to be opened, for locals and visitors alike.

The unique Georgian townscape of Whitehaven cries out for a makeover, starting with the seafront. It could become a jewel of the northwest, and a go-to seaside attraction for a captive pool of visitors to the Lakes.

But the shaping force now in our national economy is the transition beyond coal, oil and gas. It is well under way, it is unstoppable and is about to get a further boost from the climate summit in Glasgow in November.

Walney is only the beginning of a huge expansion of offshore wind in the Irish Sea. On the North Sea coast this young industry, in which Britain truly leads the world, is already building a whole new economy: manufacturing, servicing, skills, and supply chains spinning off local startups. That must happen in West Cumbria too. And there is no reason, as part of the same renewal, why good steel jobs should not come back to Workington. We need new plants to recycle scrap we currently send abroad. Where better?

To open a coalmine at the old Marchon site, to load the wagons at Wainwright’s sacred gateway to the Lakes, would be to announce to the world, and to potential investors, that West Cumbria has no interest in that better future, that it would rather cling to a faded past that now has only disappointment to offer.

Those who speak for West Cumbria should demand that central government at last supply the strategic investment and policy support the area really does need, starting with better transport links. They should insist that local authorities buy preferentially from local employers, on the pioneering Preston model. They should bring together local government, businesses, banks, NGOs, schools and colleges, to boost the skills, kick-start the projects, and pull in the capital that can bring real hope to the area. And they should repudiate the false hope offered by WCM.

It is time to bring that better future to life. It is time to send WCM packing.