Cumbria coalmine protests planned as local opposition grows

<span>Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA</span>
Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Campaigners in Cumbria are planning protests after the government gave the green light to the first new coalmine to be dug in the UK for three decades.

Opponents of the mine are expected to gather in Penrith on Friday and at the site of the mine in Whitehaven on Saturday, as local opposition to the scheme gathers steam.

Ruth Balogh, the coordinator of the West Cumbria and North Lakes Friends of the Earth group, said a public inquiry into the mine, which took place during the Covid pandemic, had not grasped the scale of opposition to the plan.

Related: Could Cumbria coalmine be stopped despite government green light?

“There were a lot of people who took the trouble to make personal representations at the public inquiry, and then an awful lot more people who didn’t, and you may recall that at the time we were in the grip of a pandemic and so we as a local campaigning organisation were not able to get out into the streets and get a grip of what people thought,” she said.

“I think the government underestimates people’s grasp of the nature of the climate crisis that we are living in, to be honest. I do think that you need to recognise that nearly every town in Cumbria has suffered flooding and that’s something we all know from first hand, and we know that climate change is responsible for the increase in flooding events.”

Planners had not taken into account calculations that showed the mine would lead to 9m tonnes more carbon in the atmosphere once end-use emissions were included, Balogh said. “That will affect us just as much as it will affect someone in Australia.”

The Conservative MP for Workington and a champion of the mine has also become a target. A group of local people have launched a Mark Jenkinson Watch campaign that focuses on his environmental stance. Members said they would attend Saturday’s protest in Whitehaven.

Alison Parker, one of Jenkinson’s constituents, said: “‘The claims that the mine can be carbon net zero are obvious nonsense. We need local green and clean jobs in insulation and on windfarms, rather than in toxic mines. The claims the mines will capture all the released carbon are a fantasy.

“This mine is not a done deal. We and other local groups will fight this. I predict the Cumbria mine will be as controversial as the Preston New Road fracking site.”

Opponents of fracking maintained a protest camp at the Cuadrilla site in Lancashire for years before it was eventually abandoned. But such protests could yet be some time away in Cumbria, with other avenues of opposition not yet exhausted.

Related: New Cumbria coalmine ‘like opening a Betamax factory’, says Tim Farron

Local campaigners believe that the decision by the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, to give the project the green light applies only to those elements that are on land. The mine, however, will extract coal from deep beneath the Irish Sea, meaning the approval of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) must also be sought before work can begin.

The MMO said it had not received an application relating to the mine and could not comment. A guidance document outlining the kinds of activities that would need MMO approval did not specifically mention mining but did include any construction on or under the seabed.

Campaigners said efforts to reverse the mine’s planning approval were also continuing. Carole Wood, the chair of South Lakes Action on Climate Change, said thegroup was crowdfunding to explore a potential legal challenge.

“There is a very tight window, but we are seeking a legal opinion looking at the planning inspectors summary and Michael Gove’s decision,” she said.