The UK’s dwindling coal industry has been dealt a blow by the government’s refusal to approve plans for an opencast mine near Druridge Bay, a Northumberland coastal beauty spot.
The ruling by Sajid Javid, communities secretary, overturned the recommendation of the government’s own planning inspector and Northumberland county council’s approval for the Highthorn scheme Mr Javid’s decision to reject the Highthorn scheme on Friday emphasised the “very considerable negative impact” the opencasting would have on greenhouse gas emissions and on climate change, as well as on landscape and heritage assets.
The benefits of coal extraction and employment — key factors for those who backed the scheme — should be afforded “great weight”, he said, but nonetheless refused permission for the proposal by the Banks Group after assessing national planning and environmental policy.
The decision was described as a landmark victory by environmental campaigners. But it was a bitter disappointment for Britain’s coal extractors, heirs to an industry that powered the industrial revolution and a century ago employed 1.2m people in 3,000 deep mines.
The government has pledged that all UK coal-fired power generation must end by 2025 and that 85 per cent of the country’s power must come from low-carbon sources by 2032.
Declining coal use has helped push down UK carbon emissions to levels last seen in 1890, and helped Britain cut greenhouse gases faster than most other developed economies.
Coal accounted for less than 7 per cent of UK power generation last year, down from 40 per cent in 2012. However coal, much of it imported, is still part of the UK’s energy mix, alongside renewables, gas and nuclear. Gavin Styles, managing director of Banks, a family-owned business based in County Durham, condemned Mr Javid’s decision as perverse and political.
“In the same week that the government decided to support passport manufacturing jobs in France instead of those in north-east England, it has now demonstrated that it would prefer to source the coal that is essential for a variety of important industries across the UK from Russia or the US, rather than support substantial investment and job creation plans in our region,” he said.
Banks, which had expected to complete the 100-job opencast scheme before 2025, has six weeks to decide whether to challenge the decision in the High Court.
Environmental campaigners said Mr Javid’s decision was an important step forward in ending “the era of fossil fuels”.
“This is the first coal mine ever to be rejected in the UK because of climate change impacts — a vindication for everyone who has been calling for fossil fuels to be left in the ground,” said Rose Dickinson, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth.
FoE said Mr Javid had shown “climate leadership” with his decision. “Now ministers should take the next step by banning all new opencast coal [mining] and stop trying to impose fracking on communities.”