The government will make a decision later this month on whether to allow plans for the UK’s largest coalmine to go ahead.
A decision will be made on the 7th of April with regards to the proposed opencast mine in Northumberland.
It has been four years since the Durham-based Banks Group first proposed its plans to develop an opencast mine that could provide 3m tonnes of coal for the steel and cement sectors in Britain.
Lawyers wrote to ministers on behalf of the company demanding that a decision be made on the ‘vital’ project which could help satisfy the ‘important national need for industrial coal’.
A company spokesperson also said that the current crisis as a result of COVID-19 could propose a threat to UK imports. However, there has been no indication of any impact on coal shipments to date.
Despite the UK relying less on coal for electricity in recent years, it is still needed to manufacture cement and steel. Imports from the US and Russia currently satisfy the UK demand for the fossil fuel.
Official figures show that the UK used a third less coal last year, using just 7.9m tonnes. Domestic production of coal also fell to a record low of 2.9m tonnes.
Environmental campaigners remain staunchly opposed to the opening of any new mines in the UK as the country moves toward the ban on coal-based power from 2025.
Friends of the Earth campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said: “It is distastefully opportunistic to use a public health crisis to argue for a new coalmine. Coronavirus is rightly the world’s priority right now, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to make another crisis worse. And to deal with the climate emergency we need to leave the vast majority of the world’s coal in the ground.”
Sajid Javid, the former communities and local government minister, rejected the plans for the coalmine two years ago. His decision came after an 18-month review concluded that the economic benefits of the mine would not outweigh the environmental impact.
This decision was later overturned by the High Court with the judge finding that Javid’s reasoning for overlooking the planning inspectorate’s backing of the project to be ‘significantly inadequate’.
The Banks Group says that the domestic mining of coal would leave less of a carbon footprint than importing coal from overseas. A similar line of reasoning was used by those in favour of the UK’s shale gas industry, but ultimately failed to convince energy ministers, who have since banned fracking within England indefinitely.
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