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  • UK Opens First Coal Mine in Decades

UK Opens First Coal Mine in Decades

Dec 05 2019 Read 2039 Times

The first deep mine colliery in over 30 years is set to be opened in West Cumbria in the near future, after the government declined to intervene over the plans and delegated responsibility to the local council. The project had been greenlighted by local authorities in March of this year, but a backlash among environmentalists had caused the government to consider blocking its development.

Having now announced they will not impede the construction of the mine, the initiative looks set to go ahead, with a location near the former Haig Colliery in Whitehaven having been selected for the mine. The Woodhouse Colliery, as the new mine will be known, will extract coking coal from the coastline at St Bees, while the old Marchon site in Kells has been earmarked as a possible site for a processing refinery.

First in 30 years

There was a time when coalmines were the backbone of British industry. At its peak in 1920, mining employed over a million Britons and that figure was still as high as 695,000 in 1956. However, its long history has been characterised by strikes over low pay and dangerous working conditions, such as exposure to flammable gases, which claimed the lives of several thousand workers over the years.

After the unsuccessful miners’ strike in 1984-85, which was led by trade unionist Arthur Scargill and broken by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the practice slowly fell out of favour. Mine closures and rising concerns over the environmental effects of the fuel source – including its greenhouse gas emissions, disruption of local ecosystems and links to extreme rainfall events – meant that the only remaining deep coal mine in the UK (Kellingley Colliery in Yorkshire) closed its doors in December 2015.

Now, however, it looks as though this once-dead industry will be resurrected. The Woodhouse Colliery is expected to create 500 jobs in the area directly tied to the mine, with a further 500 projected to spring up due to increased spending opportunities for those living in the area.

Outcry against the return of coal

While the news was welcomed by those with an interest in the mine, many other people expressed their disappointment and outrage at the return of one of the most polluting methods of energy generation. Some activists staged a sit-in on the floor of the West Cumbria County Council chamber, disrupting proceedings, while prominent politicians have also weighed in on the issue.

Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and the current MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, was outspoken in his condemnation of the move, calling it “a kick in the teeth in the fight to tackle climate change”. He went on to say: “Cumbria has so many renewable resources to provide energy - water, wind and solar - and we should most definitely not be taking the backwards step of opening a new coal mine.”

Although its proponents point to the number of jobs it will create and the coking coal that it will produce for the steel industry, critics are adamant that the government should have stepped in to block the construction of the mine, if they are serious in their goals to make Britain a cleaner country in energy terms.

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