Cumbria coal mine: Local Tory MP drops support for controversial project ahead of Cop26

Exclusive: Dr Neil Hudson calls on government to heed scientists’ warnings, and instead invest in clean renewable technologies

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Tuesday 07 September 2021 08:55 BST

Related video: Coal mine in Cumbria ‘unanimously approved’ by councillors despite escalating climate change crisis

On the eve of a public inquiry into a controversial new coal mine planned in Cumbria, an MP who was among other local Conservative MPs supporting the project is now calling on the government to drop it.

Dr Neil Hudson, the MP for Penrith and the Border, whose constituency lies across the Lake District – a few miles east of the proposed site – has made a submission to the inquiry warning “the world is changing” and in the light of the recent extreme weather events and the IPCC’s climate report, suggests the government instead invests in expanding Cumbria’s renewable energy sector.

The public inquiry, starting on Tuesday, will play a major role in deciding whether to give the go-ahead to the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years.

If given the green light, the new mine will extract up to 2.78 million tonnes of coking coal a year until 2049.

The coal will be used for the steel industry, with around 85 per cent of it exported to other countries.

The inquiry will ultimately make a final recommendation to the planning secretary Robert Jenrick, with a final decision expected next year.

In his submission, seen by The Independent, Dr Hudson urges the government to cancel the project and says the UK’s hosting of the Cop26 climate summit in November, was “a real opportunity to set an example to the world if we do this”.

He said: “I had previously signalled my support for the project with my fellow Conservative Cumbrian MPs. However, on reflection I now believe that the project should not go ahead.

“The world is changing and we are witnessing ever increasing adverse weather events leading to catastrophic floods and fires; we just need to look at the western North America, Greece and Italy in terms of fires just now, and the recent catastrophic flooding in mainland Europe this summer.

Over 200 people died in catastrophic flash floods affecting parts of Germany, and Belgium in July, while severe flooding also hit Italy, France, Turkey, Oman and China.

His submission continues: “The publication this month of the IPCC report makes stark reading and we need to act collectively as a world to fight climate change. Accordingly, with these developments and the changes in circumstances in mind, on reflection I do not think we should be progressing with new coal exploration, even for coking coal.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released last month, warned current failures of governments to slash greenhouse gas emissions means it is now “code red” for humanity, and drastic action must be taken.

“I ask that the government now acts to cancel this project,” Dr Hudson’s submission continues. “With our leadership of the Cop26 we have a real opportunity to set an example to the world if we do this.”

As well as outlining his support for greater investment in renewable energy, he also says there is a lack of local support for the mine, despite the job opportunities it would bring.

He says: “From a constituency viewpoint I can also confirm that the vast majority of constituents who have contacted me about the mine are against the project going ahead, suggesting a lack of support from this area.”

Friends of the Earth is one of the main groups opposing the mine at the forthcoming inquiry. The organisation’s climate campaigner Tony Bosworth told The Independent: “We welcome Dr Hudson’s Damascene conversion, and thank him for speaking out against the mine.

“He is right that the need for urgent and substantial emissions cuts mean that coal mining must end, and that the government needs to prioritise the creation of new green jobs.

“Hopefully, Dr Hudson’s conservative colleagues in Cumbria, who still back this mine, will also reflect on the dire climate emergency we are in and end their support too.”

A government spokesperson told The Independent: “The UK was the first major world economy to pass a net zero emissions target into law.

“Coal has no part to play in our future power generation and will be phased out by 2024 – a year earlier than planned, which is on top of important steps we are taking to decarbonise industries that still rely on coal.

“The public inquiry into the Whitehaven mine will begin tomorrow (7 September) and it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

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