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Whitehaven coal mine approved for third time

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image copyrightWest Cumbria Mining Company
image captionThe mine would extract coking coal from beneath the Irish Sea to be used in steel production

A council has again supported plans for the UK's first deep mine in 30 years despite objections from climate change activists.

West Cumbria Mining sought new approval from Cumbria County Council after amending its plan for the £165m mine in Whitehaven.

The firm plans to extract coking coal from beneath the Irish Sea to be used in steel production.

Extinction Rebellion said the council's approval was "reckless beyond belief".

The county council has approved the mine plan twice since 2017, but needed to consider it again after the mining firm said further analysis of the coal meant it could "improve" the plant's design.

The mine would create 500 jobs and pay into a community fund for 10 years.

image copyrightExtinction Rebellion
image captionExtinction Rebellion Cumbria staged a "climate change crime scene" outside the council meeting on Friday

It was supported by a number of local politicians with Mike Starkie, the mayor of Copeland, saying: "This has gone through probably the most rigorous process in Cumbria County Council's history.

"These type of investment opportunities into the local community come around not even once in a lifetime."

More than 2,300 people objected to the plan along with campaigners including Friends of the Earth, Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole (KCCH) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Extinction Rebellion Cumbria protesters staged a "climate change crime scene" outside the council's meeting on Friday.

image copyrightGoogle
image captionThe coke would be processed at the old Marchon chemical works site in Whitehaven

Activist George Smith said there was "overwhelming scientific evidence" the coal mine would "contribute significantly to the climate crisis", adding: "[The council's] decision today is reckless beyond belief."

The government will now have to decide whether or not to call the new plan in before it can progress, although it previously declined to intervene.

Analysis: Story does not end with approval

By Bob Cooper, BBC Radio Cumbria political reporter

For the third time Cumbria County Council has approved this highly controversial mine, but the story does not end there.

The council cannot issue an approval notice until the Housing and Local Government Secretary has decided whether to call the decision in.

Robert Jenrick has the power to overrule local planning authorities but has previously rejected a request to do this with respect to the West Cumbria mine.

Any move by the government to scupper the mine would not go down well with local Conservative MPs, including Trudy Harrison, who is Boris Johnson's right-hand woman in the Commons

These seats were until recently part of Labour's "red wall" and it would be hard for ministers to make any decision that would anger the area's MPs.

But it does present a challenge to the government, which is trying to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and sell its green credentials.

If the mine finally does get planning permission, campaigners could still try to challenge it in the courts.

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