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Friends of the Earth to launch legal action against Cumbrian mine

The campaign group said it believed the decision to give the coal extraction project the green light was ‘unlawful’.

04 January 2023

An environmental campaign group said it will be taking legal action against the UK Government’s decision to approve a new coal mine.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) said it believed Communities Secretary Michael Gove had “acted unlawfully” in approving the fossil fuel extraction project in Cumbria last month.

The underground mine near Whitehaven is expected to extract nearly 2.8 million tonnes of coal per year for use in steelmaking, rather than power generation.

Backers argue it will create around 500 jobs for the area and will save on having to import energy at a time of high prices, with fuel prices having rocketed as a result of the Ukraine war.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove
Communities Secretary Michael Gove approved the Cumbrian mine in December (Aaron Chown/PA)

But opponents say developing the Woodhouse Colliery site will create more greenhouse gas emissions at a time when the UK is striving to establish a net-zero economy by 2050.

Mr Gove has previously acknowledged that the mine may be subject to a legal challenge, with FoE one of the first objectors out of the blocks.

The group said it is planning to file its claim in the courts later this month.

South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC), another leading opponent of the extraction programme, confirmed its legal team had sent a “pre-action letter” to Mr Gove.

It is currently crowdfunding to raise £70,000 in order to mount a challenge, with SLACC tweeting that the papers must be lodged at the High Court by January 13.

Woodhouse Colliery
There have been protests at the site earmarked for the mine in Cumbria (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Niall Toru, a lawyer for FoE, said: “By giving the go-ahead to this polluting and totally unnecessary coal mine, the Government has not only made the wrong decision for our economy and the climate, we believe it has also acted unlawfully.

“Michael Gove has failed to account for the significant climate impacts of this mine or how the much-needed move to green steelmaking will be impacted by its approval.

“With the world facing a climate emergency, we shouldn’t have to take this challenge to court.

“Any sensible government should be choosing to leave coal in the ground, and accelerating the transition to a safe, clean and sustainable future.”

Mr Toru said “just as many jobs” could be secured through a local programme to insulate homes rather than allowing mining to take place.

“This would bring a myriad of benefits the mine simply can’t offer, such as lower energy bills, warmer homes and fewer carbon emissions released into our atmosphere,” he added.

Rowan Smith, solicitor at Leigh Day representing the campaigners, said: “A critical issue raised by Friends of the Earth during the inquiry was the signal that granting a new coal mine in the middle of a climate emergency would send to the rest of the world.

“Friends of the Earth believes that this was never properly grappled with by either the inspector or the Secretary of State.

“We hope that the court will agree that this argument justifies a full hearing.”

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