A public inquiry is set to be held on proposals for a new coal mine in West Cumbria, after a decision from the Secretary of State for Local Government to call in the plans.
It was announced yesterday that the controversial plans to construct a new coking coal mine just outside Whitehaven had been called in by the Local Government Minister Robert Jenrick.
This means that the final decision on whether to approve the plans or not has been taken out of the hands of Cumbria County Council.
A letter sent yesterday to the county council from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government states that the Government “places a strong emphasis on localism and decentralisation, and the general approach of the Secretary of State is, therefore, not to interfere with the decision-making process of democratically elected local councils on planning matters”.
“We consider this only right as Parliament has entrusted local planning authorities with the responsibility for day-to-day planning.
“Local authorities are expected to make planning decisions promptly. The Secretary of State’s power to call in a case will be used very selectively, and in general only if planning issues of more than local importance are involved.”
The letter adds that the “planning application for this development was first submitted to Cumbria County Council in May 2017 and has been considered by your planning committee on three occasions, without a final outcome being reached.
“Four years later, it is now being reconsidered a further time.”
The Secretary of State, the letter explains, “has decided to call this application in because of the further developments since his original decision.
“The Climate Change Committee’s recommendations for the 6th Carbon Budget have been published since he was advised on this decision. The Secretary of State recognises that proponents and opponents take different positions on that matter, and considers that this should be explored during a public inquiry.
“Furthermore controversy about the application has increased.
“Overall the Secretary of State considers that this application raises planning issues of more than local importance.”
Reacting to the news, the South Lakes Action on Climate Change campaign group, a leading force in the camp staunchly opposed to the mine, declared the decision a “success”, and welcomed the news a public inquiry is to be held.
Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron, said: “It’s fantastic news that the Government have at long last finally woken up to the fact that this mine would be an almighty backwards step in our fight against climate change.
“In the year that Britain hosts COP26, it is blindingly obviously that we won’t be taken seriously on the world stage with this coal mine hanging round our neck.
“I hope this public inquiry leads to these plans finally being axed, and the Government instead looks at bringing well-paid, long-term, green jobs to Cumbria, starting off by reversing their decision to deny our county a Freeport and step in and save Newton Rigg agricultural college from being closed.”
Copeland’s Conservative mayor, Mike Starkie, has long been a vocal advocate of the mine and described the development as “disappointing” and “regrettable”.
Mr Starkie blamed the “hype building up around” the debate over the proposed coking coal mine for the latest twist in the four year saga.
He added that he is in “no doubt” that if the plans go before the national Planning Inspectorate, “they will say it’s a valid application and it should progress.”
“I think the public inquiry will result in it being passed,” he said. But he expressed concern over the prospect of the company behind the plans, West Cumbria Mining, continuing with their intention to press ahead with the project.
“The worry is whether the investors want to stick around, after having been messed around for so long.
“They’ve been messed around from pillar to post,” he said.