2019 start proposed for work on £165m undersea mine off West Cumbria coast
A photographic impression of how the new West Cumbria Mining development would look like
Work to create a £165 million undersea mine off the west Cumbrian coast will not start until the end of next year and plans for a supporting solar farm are in the pipeline, it has been revealed.
Mark Kirkbride, chief executive of West Cumbria Mining, said it looked likely that the planning application for the coking coal mine, off Whitehaven, would not go before county planning chiefs until July.
The project has been given the backing of Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade and Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse minister.
Mr Kirkbride said: "It's fantastic to have that support, and very unusual."
The proposed 60 acre solar farm, on a 600 acre site at Weddicar, would provide 40 per cent of the mine's power needs, Mr Kirkbride added.
It had been hoped that the county council would discuss the application in spring.
If it gets the go ahead, work would not start on the mine until February 2019, instead of later this year.
Mr Kirkbride said: "I am frustrated that it is taking so long. We thought it was going to be soon. We've paid £500,000 to the county council in fees to get to this point and it seems like there's a long road ahead.
"But we are not going to walk away from west Cumbria. This is a world class mining project we are trying to bring here and we remain committed."
It was hoped that if the mine was given the green light in the spring, work could be completed by 2020 and full mining production would start in 2023. This has now been put back.
Mr Kirkbride was giving a presentation at the Copeland Open for Business conference at Whitehaven Golf Course last Thursday.
The company has spent around £23m on investigation work and putting together the application.
But, he told the audience at the Copeland Open for Business event: "I first approached Copeland Council with plans to open a coking coal mine in Whitehaven in 2014.
"I had £25 million in funding, the ability to create hundreds of jobs and let me tell you, Copeland wasn't open for business in 2014. I'm glad it is now."
"The planning application to open the country’s first new coal mine for over 30 years was bound to be complex."
"It has cut across a wide spectrum of issues; from the need for coal to be extracted, to its safe transport, from contamination and landscape remediation to safeguarding ecology.
"Cumbria County Council has continued to work with WCM, and with the local and national consultees, with the intention of bring the planning application forward for consideration.
"In line with national guidance the council has a Planning Performance Agreement in place with WCM, this covers the council’s costs of working on the application.
"However as with any planning application it is the responsibility of the applicant to secure the necessary agreements and consents from statutory consultees.
"Following recent negotiations with consultees WCM have requested to amend their proposals to drive two new extraction tunnels.
"Full details of these amendments will shortly be publicised and consulted upon so that the application can continue to be progressed."
West Cumbria Mining is holding open days for people to find out more about the project at its offices at the former Haig Museum on May 17 from 2pm to 7pm, May 18 from 10am to 4pm and May 19 from 9am to 3pm.
Protest held over plans to bring coal mining back to West Cumbria
Members of Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole, Extinction Rebellion and the Green Party protested against West Cumbria Mining’s plans to redevelop Whitehaven’s former Marchon site and extract coking coal off the coast of St Bees, speaking to shoppers in Workington.
Protestor Marianne Birkby said: “We spoke to ordinary folk including miners who were adamant that there should not be a return to coal mining on the west coast of Cumbria.
"The reasons are many – the water situation in West Cumbria is already stressed, the mine would impact hydrology, would produce 175 million tonnes of CO2, the possibility of seabed collapse and earth movement is unthinkable so near to Sellafield.
“Only one person thought the jobs were worth the damage (just 500 jobs proposed for the mine – similar to a supermarket depot and nowhere near the jobs in renewables and energy efficiency technologies).”
West Cumbria Mining is seeking permission from Cumbria County Council to open Woodhouse Colliery, which it says would have a planned operational lifespan of 50 years and extract up to 3.1 million tonnes of coal per year.
It would extract coking coal off the coast of St Bees, with a processing plant on the former Marchon site at Kells, before exporting to Redcar, on the east coast, and shipping it to the EU and beyond. The firm has said the scheme would create 500-plus jobs.
After a drop-in event last month, bosses said the scheme had had massive support, with 99 per cent positive feedback.
Helen Davies, head of communications for the firm, said: "West Cumbria Mining continues to progress the development of the Woodhouse Colliery project in an open and collaborative spirit. The company has held numerous engagement public events since 2014, where there has been consistently strong support for the scheme including from local members of parliament and cabinet ministers, together with hundreds of expressions of support submitted to Cumbria County Council in favour of the current planning application process for the project to move forwards.
"The WCM planning documentation sets out and responds to all of the questions raised by external parties over the last three years and provides clear scientific evidence based responses to each of those points, clearly demonstrating that there are no risks or significant impacts from the scheme"
Cumbria County Council is consulting on the plans until January 28. Its development control committee is due to discuss the plans next month.
Fresh delay for £165m undersea coal mine
Work to create Whitehaven Colliery off the west Cumbrian coast was due to kick-off at the end of the year.
But it has now been revealed that the planning application will not even go before county council planners for a decision until early next year.
West Cumbria Mining wants to extract coking coal off the coast of St Bees, with a processing plant on the former Marchon site at Kells.
This isn't the first time the application decision has been delayed and the news has sent shockwaves through the community.
Copeland mayor Mike Starkie said he was "extremely disappointed" with the delay.
"A decision is now a year overdue and it doesn't look like a decision will be made for some months yet," he said.
"This is an extremely important development for West Cumbria in terms of jobs, economic prosperity and the diversity of our economic base."
The mayor added that he hoped the investors in the mine have the "time and patience to stick with it."
"The reality is that work should already be underway and West Cumbria Mining would already be employing people, spending millions of pounds in the local supply chain and improving the local economy," he added. "I want to be clear that my support for this investment and team running this project is absolute."
The planning application was lodged with the county council at the end of May 2017 and the project has been given the backing of Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade and Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse minister.
A spokeswoman for West Cumbria Mining said: "Woodhouse Colliery is a large and complex industrial project which involves both onshore and offshore activities.
"It is important to WCM and Cumbria County Council that queries and questions raised by consultees during the planning application consultation process are addressed as far as possible, and throughout the design and consultation process, WCM has incorporated feedback from both local and statutory consultees to reduce the impact of the proposal.
"With any large-scale development seeking planning there is an increased level of evidence required to meet environmental and legislative requirements."
A confirmed date has not yet been given for when the application will be heard.
The spokeswoman added: "However, WCM are confident that the additional information requested (all in relation to environmental aspects) is being addressed and as such are nearing the end of the planning application process.
"This should enable the project to be heard by the planning committee in early 2019 with the aim to achieve a positive determination, thus allowing the project to move forward without further delays."
A spokesman for Cumbria County Council said: "Cumbria County Council continues to work with West Cumbria Mining to bring the planning application for the proposed mine to the council’s Development Control and Regulation Committee for determination at the soonest opportunity."