Government says ‘error in law’ on coalmine decision

The government will no longer defend a decision, made by the previous government, to allow a controversial new coalmine in Cumbria.

The new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Angela Rayner, has accepted there was an “error of law” in the decision to grant planning permission for the mine in December 2022.

Consequently, the government will not now be defending two legal challenges next week against the mine – by Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC).

It has instead informed the court that the decision to grant planning permission should be quashed.

BBC News has contacted West Cumbria Mining, the company behind the proposed mine, for comment.

The mine has been heavily criticised by climate campaigners and the government’s independent advisors on climate.

Two legal challenges over the climate impacts of burning the coal will be heard at the High Court in London next week.

It comes after the court ruled in June that permission for an oil drilling project in Surrey should not have been granted because the climate impacts of burning the fossil fuels had not been considered.

The government referred to that ruling in its decision on Thursday to withdraw support.

West Cumbria Mining wants to build the UK’s first deep coal mine in over 30 years. It would produce metallurgical coal, also called coking coal, for use by the steel industry.

At full production it would produce 2.78 million tonnes a year.

The company claims it would create 500 highly-skilled jobs with up to 1,500 more in the supply chain.

But critics argue it is at odds with the UK’s commitments to radically reduce the amount of warming gases like carbon dioxide it produces that contribute to climate change.

The government has signed up to not add any more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2050, and reduce emissions by 68% by 2030.

Chris Stark, the former head of the Climate Change Committee, which monitors the government’s record on climate, criticised the decision to allow the mine to go ahead.

In 2021 he said the mine “will increase global emissions and have an appreciable impact on the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets”.

Campaigners against the mine welcomed the news. Maggie Mason, who leads the South Lakes Action on Climate Change group, said: “Building the mine on an old chemical site close to homes and the Irish Sea was also risky. West Cumbrians deserve jobs that don’t cost the earth,” she said.

Friends of the Earth climate co-ordinator Jamie Peters said: “We’re delighted the government agrees that planning permission for this destructive, polluting and unnecessary coal mine was unlawfully granted and that it should be quashed.

“We hope the court agrees, and that the mine is then rejected when the secretary of state reconsiders the application.

“The new government must now ensure that areas like West Cumbria get the jobs and investment they urgently need so that people living there can reap the benefits of building a clean, green and affordable future.”

The High Court will now decide if the original planning decision should be overturned.

According to Friends of the Earth, if the court rules next week that the decision was incorrect, the planning application will go back to the secretary of state to make a fresh decision.

The decision throws into doubt whether the coalmine will ultimately get the go-ahead.

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