UK government set for coal mine court fight

Environmental group, Friends of the Earth has said it is to take legal action against the UK government following its recent decision to grant planning permission for a controversial new coal mine in Cumbria.

Friends of the Earth, one of the two main opponents of the mine at the planning inquiry in September 2021, will file its claim later this month. It will focus on the mine’s climate impacts.

The other main opponent of the mine, South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC), is also considering legal action and sent a letter to the country’s levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, in December seeking more information and setting out some of the errors in law in his decision.

Friends of the Earth said after numerous delays to announcing the outcome of the planning inquiry – including one apparently aimed at avoiding an announcement whilst the Prime Minister was in Egypt for recent UN climate talks – the mine was ultimately given the green light in early December by Mr Gove.

Niall Toru, lawyer at Friends of the Earth, 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.

“The steel industry is under no illusion that it must decarbonise if we’re to meet our climate goals, which calls into doubt the long-term viability of the mine and the jobs used to justify it.

“Just as many jobs could be created locally through a programme to guarantee every home in the area is properly insulated. 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.

“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.”

Rowan Smith, solicitor at Leigh Day, added: “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.”