Plans to build an £165m undersea mine for West Cumbria have been given the go ahead

The long-awaited mine is expected to create more than 500 jobs and give a much-needed boost to West Cumbria following the collapse of the Moorside nuclear investment deal.

Today’s meeting of Cumbria County Council's planning committee heard that it could generate double that number of jobs in the supply chain and up to 146 jobs in the construction phase.
West Cumbria Mining wants to extract coking coal off the coast of St Bees, with a processing plant on the former Marchon site at Kells.

But the panel also heard from several climate change experts and environmental activists who urged members to reject the proposals amid claims lives could be saved by blocking the mine.

Speakers, including Dr Ruth Balogh, also warned the council that they could expect a “legal challenge” to the scheme.

Some campaigners shouted “shame on you” as the decision to approve the mine was put to the vote and one woman sat on the floor for several minutes to protest the ruling.

But other speakers including mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie and Councillor Chris Whiteside spoke of the desperate need for jobs in West Cumbria, particularly in deprived wards close to the mine.

Finishing his speech to a chorus of ‘boos’, Mr Starkie said: “I do not agree at all with the sensationalised views of the opposition groups who seem to be intent on trying to stop and future opportunities for the people of West Cumbria.

“Once again it seems that people from outside Copeland and West Cumbria know better than those who live within it and it would be very unjust, and highly controversial, if the committee considere those views to carry any weight in this case.”

Work to create Woodhouse Colliery off the west Cumbrian coast was due to begin at the end of last year, with the planning application lodged at the end of May 2017.

Sam Moisha of Radiation Free Lakeland claimed that coal mining was a “dead duck” and that there were too many uncertainties surrounding the steel industry for which the coking coal extracted is used.

Climate change expert Dr Laurie Michaelis described speaking at the meeting as the “most important thing I will do in my life”, adding: “Refusing this mine will help save lives.”

But Mark Kirkbride, chief executive of West Cumbria Mining, promised that the mine would be a “good neighbour” and was committed to creating local jobs for the area.

He stressed that steel demand, for which the coking coal mined is needed, was expected to grow “significantly” over the next 50 years.

He said that the steel was needed by the renewable energy industry and the mine would bring economic benefits to the area.

Mr Kirkbride said that the mine had spent £30m to get the mine to this stage while several speakers praised the way the mine had engaged with the community over its plans.

West Cumbria Mining would enter into a  section 106 agreement with the county council which would see it investing in the area as a planning condition.

Mine bosses would be asked to pay towards the road network, a cyclepath as well and restoration work to former mineworks as part of a raft of improvements to the area.

The panel was told this was one of the most complex applications which had been put before Cumbria County Council.