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Cumbrian coal mine would be ‘carte blanche’ for polluters – former minister

Demonstrators outside the proposed Woodhouse Colliery, south of Whitehaven in Cumbria (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Demonstrators outside the proposed Woodhouse Colliery, south of Whitehaven in Cumbria (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Approving a new coal mine in Cumbria would give “carte blanche” to other countries to miss climate change targets, a former energy minister has said.

Chris Skidmore, who served as energy minister in 2019 and signed the UK’s binding commitment to reach net zero by 2050, said approving the new mine near Whitehaven would undermine the UK’s position as a global leader on climate change.

He told the PA news agency: “If we’re going to be international leaders on net zero, international leaders on the back of our achievements at Cop26, the UK can’t suddenly decide then we’re going to open up a new coal (mine) at Whitehaven because of the message that then sends to the Chinese or any other countries.

“The UK is the figurehead.

“It’s the first country to sign net zero into law, the country that came up with the Glasgow climate pact, and is itself opening a coal plant.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s coking coal for steel, it’s still a coal plant.”

He added that opening the Cumbria mine could be a “seminal” issue that “sent shockwaves across the world” and give other nations “carte blanche, or carte noire I should probably say, for opening new coal power stations.”

Universities UK Conference 2019
Former energy minister Chris Skidmore has spoken out against plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria (Joe Giddens/PA)

A final decision on the Cumbrian mine is expected by mid-July following a planning inquiry in 2021.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove is said to be supportive of the plans, which have been approved by Cumbria County Council but has faced opposition from environmental groups.

Boris Johnson has previously said he is “not in favour of more coal”, but stopped short of openly opposing the new mine, leading Labour to accuse the Government of “total hypocrisy”.

In April 2022, a report from the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee on Beis (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) described the new mine as “sensible” and “not incompatible with our net-zero ambitions”.