Cumbria: protests build before coal mine decision

rs21 members report on a showdown between coal mining developers in Cumbria and local communities demanding a break with fossil fuel extraction and its ecological damages.

Haigh Mining Museum (Whitehaven)
Haigh Mining Museum in Whitehaven, formerly Haigh Pit, the area’s last active coal mine.

Campaigners opposing plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria held demonstrations across the county this week ahead of the County Council’s decision on whether to approve the opening of a new development set to extract coking coal near the town of Whitehaven.

The protests are part of the build-up towards a larger demonstration at 8.30am on Thursday 20 August at New Road Common, Kendal. This latter demonstration was originally planned to coincide with a key meeting of councillors who were due to decide whether to give the planned development the go-ahead. However, in a highly unusual move, the council has taken a last-minute decision to cancel the meeting.

Campaigners hope that cancellation is due to the weight of objections raised against the mine, as well as the evidence they have submitted outlining the detrimental climate impacts of the development.

Penrith Extinction Rebellion

The council had previously given planning approval for the mine, but the developers, West Cumbria Mining, were forced to amend their application after legal challenges by campaigners.

Councillors are under pressure to acknowledge the gaping flaws in the case presented by West Cumbria Mining, which has made exaggerated promises of new jobs linked to the development, and has dissimulated over the profoundly damaging local and global impacts of the proposed new mine.

‘The council has said that job creation was its main reason for approving the earlier application, but West Cumbria Mining’s claim of 500 jobs for 50 years is another false promise,’ said Maggie Mason, one of the campaigners involved in the legal challenge.

‘That’s because this mine will produce coking coal for steel making, which is changing rapidly to use more environmentally friendly alternatives that don’t need coal… Demand for the coal is set to reduce significantly by 2030 and will definitely not persist for the 50 year life of the mine.’

Protesters from Penrith Extinction Rebellion

Campaigners have also highlighted that, while the company claims the mine would offer ‘economic benefits’ such as tax revenue to the UK at large, West Cumbria Mining is in fact owned by Cayman Islands-registered EMR Capital, who would reap the (largely untaxed) profits.

The negative impacts of the new mine, meanwhile, are easily predictable. These include local economic costs and quality-of-life problems: much-loved West Coast and coast-to-coast walking routes would be redirected into an underpass, damaging tourism and the wellbeing of local communities.

Campaigners are also highlighting the inexcusable contribution the mine will make to global carbon emissions and associated climate change.

‘The county council has already received evidence from Professor Paul Ekins, an eminent economist, that opening the mine would add significantly to global carbon emissions, contrary to what West Cumbria Mining has claimed,’ said Henry Goodwin, who was part of the Carlisle protest as chair of a local sustainability group and as an Extinction Rebellion activist.

Carlisle Climate campaigners protest a proposed new coal mine
Carlisle Climate campaigners protest a proposed new coal mine

‘The developers say that this mine won’t result in ANY more coal being burnt, because other mines that currently supply the coal will close. Professor Ekins states clearly that the increased supply would lower the price, delay the necessary switch to lower-carbon steelmaking, and result in additional coal being burnt over the lifetime of the mine. Mines in the USA are not going to close the day the Whitehaven mine opens!’

Cumbria is very directly affected by the escalating impacts of the climate emergency. The area faces devastating flooding, which will get worse and more frequent as emissions rise. There is no future in coal; but like thousands of other communities around the country and around the world, the area is being pressured to choose between jobs and ecological responsibility, rather than being offered investment in long-term, well-paid low-carbon jobs. The area’s strong and resilient environmentalist campaigns are rejecting the false choice and showing the way to really build back better after Covid-19.




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