Tory touts ‘positive case’ for UK’s first deep coal mine in decades despite green backlash

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The controversial coal mine is expected to be built in Cumbria, however, plans appear to be on hold. Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick previously claimed he would not intervene in the project.

But on Thursday the Tory MP for Newark said he would take responsibility of the scheme away from the local authority.

The Government is now set to conduct a public inquiry into the deep coal mine plans.

Green campaigners have said the mine will increase carbon emissions and create a contradictory message in the run-up to the UK-hosted climate conference COP26 in November.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight on Friday, Stephen Haraldsen, Deputy Leader of Cumbria Country Council’s Conservative Group, said there was a “positive case” for the coal mine.

Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark quizzed Mr Haraldsen on the environmental impacts of the project.

She added: “There is a glut of coke in the world. We don’t need any more coking coal, there’s plenty around to feed the steel industry of the world. It’s a bad choice for Cumbria.”

He responded: “I disagree, I think it’s an excellent choice for Cumbria, it’s going to provide 500 well-paid jobs, 50 apprenticeships.

“It’s going to provide a £5 million community fund. It’s going to lead to thousands more jobs in the supply chain.

“It’s going to prevent importing coking coal from the likes of Australia and from China so there’s a great saving in terms of carbon reduction there.

“And ultimately at the moment there’s no viable alternative to the use of coking coal as a reagent for steel making.”

Ms Wark went on to ask Mr Haraldsen about how realistic it would be for the Government to approve the coal mine before COP26.

She highlighted how markets are trying to move away from fossil fuels and claimed “it’s not going to be a good look” for the UK to go ahead with the mine.

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Mr Haraldsen replied: “I don’t disagree that the market is moving away from fossil fuels – absolutely not and that’s the right thing to do.

“But this is not a fossil fuel for burning for electricity, it is a necessary chemical reagent in steel making.

“There’s no viable alternative and we need to make much more strongly the positive case for substituting the import of coke from overseas and the saving in carbon that it achieves and start to properly go on the front foot to say that this mine will provide something that is necessary.”

Questioned over whether the Government backed the mine or not, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that he couldn’t get involved because it was now a “quasi-judicial planning decision”.

The Government’s climate tsar, Alok Sharma, is said to be furious at the previous decision to let the coal mine proceed.

Professor Rebecca Willis from Lancaster University said the mine would produce 8.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

In a statement, she added: “The proposed mine is clearly incompatible with the UK’s climate ambitions and the need for a clean energy future.

“The new government has championed its commitment to climate action. It now needs to set out its policy on fossil fuel extraction, making clear that digging more coal out of the ground is no longer acceptable.”

Mr Johnson has pledged to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and has encouraged other countries to follow suit.

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