A new coal mine in west Cumbria is ‘potentially life-changing’ for local people, one of the project’s biggest supporters has said.

But environmentalists have slammed the Government’s decision to approve the plans – branding it ‘a deeply damaging mistake’.

Britain’s first coal mine in decades was given the go-ahead by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove last week, after years of dispute over whether the project should go ahead.

The £160million Woodhouse Colliery off the coast of Whitehaven will remove coking coal from beneath the Irish Sea for the production of steel.

The developer, West Cumbria Mining, say the scheme will create 500 jobs and help slash the need to import foreign coal.

But environmental campaigners, including Friends of the Earth, have strongly opposed the mine, saying it will increase carbon emissions and damage the UK’s climate credibility.

In Cumbria: Copeland Mayor Mike Starkie has been a supporter of the mine since the plans were announcedCopeland Mayor Mike Starkie has been a supporter of the mine since the plans were announced (Image: Newsquest)Mike Starkie, mayor of Copeland, said: “I was absolutely delighted that the mine was given the approval. I have been a supporter and an advocate of the mine since day one and the Planning Inspector’s report made crystal clear, the validity of all the arguments in favour, that have been presented.

“An independent Planning Inspector has heard all sides of this argument and has concluded what I have always believed that the mine should go ahead, which is fantastic news for the west Cumbrian economy and potentially life-changing for people who live in our area.

“I now look forward to work commencing at the earliest opportunity.”

Trudy Harrison, Copeland MP, said: “I have consistently made the case for Woodhouse Colliery. Coking coal is a critical raw material which will be required for the European steel industry for decades. 

“West Cumbria Mining’s Woodhouse Colliery will be the cleanest, greenest method of extracting coking coal.

"Blissfully ignorant continuation of the present situation - supporting awful working conditions, worse environmental standards for which we have no control and thousands of miles of fossil fuelled rail, road and ocean transportation - is war grade hypocrisy. 

In Cumbria: Copeland MP Trudy Harrison with representatives from West Cumbria MiningCopeland MP Trudy Harrison with representatives from West Cumbria Mining (Image: Newsquest)

“Every part of our plan for a green industrial revolution needs steel, most of the world's steel production needs coking coal. That's the reality - Woodhouse Colliery is a solution for the medium term and is part of the transition. And the independent Planning Inspectorate agrees.”

A spokesperson for West Cumbria Mining said: “West Cumbria Mining is delighted with the decision of the Secretary of State to formally approve the Woodhouse Colliery planning application.

“The decision of the Secretary of State, which is supported by the Planning Inspector following on from last year’s planning inquiry, means the project can now move forwards to deliver the world’s first net zero mine supplying the critical steel industry with a high-quality metallurgical coal product.

“We look forward to taking the project to the next stage of delivery and jobs creation and thank all of those in West Cumbria and across Britain who have supported the project throughout.

“WCM will issue further statements and updates in the near future.”

Friends of the Earth campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said: “This is an appalling decision. Approving this mine is a misguided and deeply damaging mistake that flies in the face of all the evidence. The mine isn’t needed, will add to global climate emissions, and won’t replace Russian coal.

“Scientists are clear that new fossil fuel projects are not compatible with meeting global climate goals to limit warming to 1.5C.

“The market for this coal is rapidly disappearing as UK and European steelmakers recognise that green steel is the future, and this mine risks becoming an expensive stranded asset.

“West Cumbria deserves far better than this. Investing in cheap renewables and energy efficiency would put the region at the forefront of growing a clean, affordable and energy secure future – creating thousands of green jobs and opportunities locally.

“Last month’s decision to postpone an announcement on the mine now looks little more than a cynical ploy to try and avoid the embarrassment of approving it while the Prime Minister was trying to portray himself as a climate leader at the UN climate summit.

“Coal must be consigned to history books, along with this government’s harmful and outdated addiction to fossil fuels.”

In Cumbria: Environmental campaigners stand in protest against the mine outside the former Haig Pit in Whitehaven in 2019Environmental campaigners stand in protest against the mine outside the former Haig Pit in Whitehaven in 2019 (Image: Newsquest)

Dr Ruth Balogh, co-ordinator of West Cumbria Friends of the Earth, said: “This short-sighted decision is bad news for the climate and the region's long-term well-being.

“West Cumbria needs sustainable green jobs for the future – not a dirty coal mine. This will contribute to the planet-warming emissions that are causing extreme weather events all over the world, such as the intense flooding which we now experience more frequently across Cumbria.”

Plans for a new coal mine were approved three times by Cumbria County Council but in February 2021, the authority suspended its decision and the plans were called in.

A planning inquiry was held in September 2021 and a report was prepared by the Planning Inspector for the Secretary of State to consider before making a final decision on the plans.

The deadline had been pushed back several times from early July to the latest deadline of December 8 – with the decision to approve announced last Wednesday.

READ MORE: Government approves plans for Whitehaven coal mine