A controversial new coal mine planned for Cumbria is struggling for national support, with a new poll showing Britons want ministers to block it on climate grounds.
The West Cumbria Mining proposal near Whitehaven would be the first deep coal mine in the UK for 30 years, with supporters saying it would create thousands of jobs.
But activists warn it would be detrimental to the environment and Britain’s climate goals, as the UK prepares to host the Cop26 summit in Glasgow in November.
A survey by YouGov found 47 per cent of people think the mine will have a negative impact on the UK – with just 9 per cent believing it will be positive.
Ministers say the go-ahead of the mine is a local issue and are refusing to step in and overrule Cumbria County Council, which gave it the green light last year.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, which commissioned the polling, said: “Greenlighting the UK’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years is the last thing you’d expect from the host government of the next major climate summit.
“It’s like giving a tax break to Big Tobacco before hosting a global public health conference. ‘Do as we say not as we do’ can’t be the government slogan for the Glasgow summit. Britain really does need to lead by example or it won’t lead at all.
“Ministers are still in time to call in the decision and block the mine before it buries the government’s climate credentials under a ton of coal.”
According to YouGov’s poll, 36 per cent of people are opposed to construction while just 24 per cent support it. Additionally, a complete blanket ban on the construction of new coal mines has support from 33 per cent of Britons, while 25 per cent are against.
Defenders of the mine say its coal will be used exclusively for coking in the production of steel rather than power generation, and that alternative technologies are not yet mature enough.
They argue that the mine will provide jobs locally and that coal will have to be imported to produce steel anyway for some time to come.
Phil MacDonald, lead UK analyst at the clean energy think tank Ember, told The Independent: “A new coal mine in the UK won’t provide the jobs it promises. The last use for the coal is in steel – but the transition to producing clean steel from hydrogen and renewables has already begun. In Sweden, commercial steel production from renewables is just 5 years away – and the UK won’t be far behind.
“The UK can’t meet its climate targets if we keep allowing coal mining – and it sends a terrible signal to the rest of the world just as we are hosting the climate conference in Glasgow this November. The UK government needs to be backing green, stable jobs in renewables in the northwest – not short-lived, dangerous jobs.”
Matthew Pennycook, Labour’s shadow climate change minister, said: “The decision to sit back and allow a new deep coal mine to open in England in this year of all years not only makes a mockery of the government’s claim to be a climate leader, it will not provide the long-term job security that Cumbrians deserve.
“Decarbonised steel is the future and ministers should be relentlessly focused on developing an active industrial strategy that will attract good, low-carbon jobs and investment to counties like Cumbria.”
Jonathan Bartley, Green Party co-leader, described the new mine as a “shocking indictment of how lightly this government takes its climate commitments”.
“This coal mine is completely at odds with the government’s ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” he said. “Frankly, it makes the UK a laughing stock in the year it is hosting one of the most important climate summits ever.
“How can any other country take Boris Johnson seriously when he calls for action to tackle climate change if his own government is giving the green light to a long-term investment in the most polluting of all fossil fuels, at a time when the UK is supposed to be rapidly reducing its emissions?”
In January, the government’s chief planning officer, Joanna Averley, said ministers had decided against blocking the mine because its impact would be exclusively local. Environmentalists described the claim as “extraordinary”.
The planning decision was made by scandal-hit communities secretary Robert Jenrick, who remains in his job despite controversy over previous planning decisions.
The government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which leads on climate matters, declined to comment on the situation, and referred The Independent to the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG).
An MHCLG spokesperson said: “Planning decisions should be made at a local level wherever possible. This application has not been called in and is a matter for Cumbria County Council to decide.”