The ability to produce steel using metallurgical whilst achieving net zero in 2050 was thrown into the Cumbrian coal mine public inquiry on Friday.

A Government inquiry into the controversial Woodhouse Colliery coal mine planned for Whitehaven rages on and the latest concern heard about the planning application is that the demand for metallurgical coal will not justify the development.

Solicitor for Friends of the Earth Paul Brown QC called on Dr Jonathan Cullen to give evidence at the latest sitting of the inquiry on Friday.

Dr Cullen is a doctor of philosophy in engineering and an associate professor in Energy, Transport and Urban Infrastructure at the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge.

Speaking to the inquiry, he said: "Achieving net zero carbon emissions for steel production in the UK and mainland Europe by 2050 will be challenging. "Meeting climate change demands is key to drive a move from primary steel production from iron ore towards secondary steel production from steel scrap and an overall reduction in demand for steel.

Dr Cullen said: "Both these emission reduction strategies result in a reduced requirement for primary steel production from iron ore and therefore less demand for metallurgical coal.

"These inevitable shifts in steel production will reduce the requirement for metallurgical coal in the UK and mainline Europe making the proposed WCM (West Cumbria Mining) mine redundant."

He told the inquiry: The production output of the UK steel industry has declined by about half since the 1990s from 15 million tons to 7.5 million tons.

But Mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie said: "There's going to be a demand for metallurgical coal and an increasing demand for it for at least 30 years. If the coal isn't mined from Whitehaven we'll be importing it from elsewhere, that is a fact."

Mr Starkie said that it is impossible to "look into a crystal ball" and predict an advancement in alternative methods.

"The reality is there is a need for coking coal for at least the next 35 years. The development of the new technologies to meet that demand are probably decades away."

The development of a coking coal mine on the former Marchon site would need a Rail Loading Facility running from St Bees to Whitehaven which Friends of the Earth fear will "devalue" the Pow Beck Valley.

Friends of the Earth North West campaigner, Estelle Worthington, said: “A Rail Loading Facility would have a terrible impact on the peace and beauty of the Pow Beck Valley and the area’s significant tourism potential.

“West Cumbria deserves so much better than this huge blot on the landscape.

“The government must insist on leaving coal in the ground, and help put Cumbria at the forefront of building a cleaner future by investing in the area’s huge green industry potential, and the new jobs this would bring.”