Climate activists are set for a courtroom showdown with the government over a newly-approved coal mine in West Cumbria after a date was set by the High Court for two legal challenges later this year.
The challenges from Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) will take place in the autumn, over three days between 24 and 26 October.
The ‘rolled-up’ hearing is in practice the same as a trial, in that the court is expected to allow each claimant to argue its case in full.
Friends of the Earth’s lawyer, Niall Toru, said: “We have a strong case against the decision to grant planning permission for this coal mine and look forward to setting it out before the court in October. The secretary of state made a number of significant climate-related errors in allowing this mine to proceed which we believe makes his decision unlawful.“
Carole Wood, chair of SLACC, added: “I am very glad that the court has decided to set aside three days in October for this hearing. Michael Gove’s rationale for approving a new UK coal mine, that would extract and export coal until 2050, was seriously flawed, and involves issues of national and international importance that must be examined.”
The legal action follows Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove’s decision last December to grant permission for a new coal mine in Cumbria, the first deep domestic mine to be built in the UK for over 30 years.
Both climate campaign groups are concerned by the environmental impact of the new mine, with analysis from think tank Green Alliance predicting the mine would produce the same emissions as 200,000 cars each year.
The Climate Change Committee has separately calculated that 85 percent of the coal from the proposed mine is planned for export to Europe.
At the time, Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, hammered the decision as a “climate crime against humanity” and predicted the decision will be “challenged every step of the way.”
She said: “When we need a clean, green industrial strategy fit for the future, this Government has backed a climate-busting, backward-looking, business-wrecking, stranded asset coal mine.”
West Cumbria Mining is expected to operate the mine at Whitehaven at the former Marchon chemical works site, removing coking coal from beneath the Irish Sea for steel production.
It is expected to cost up to £165m, with the company aiming for production from the mine starting by 2025.
It will not be used as an energy source, with the government having committed to phasing out coal power generation by 2024 as part of its climate ambitions.
This followed multiple delays as the government pushed for more time to reach a verdict amid turmoil in Westminster in 2022, which saw three different prime ministers take office in Downing Street.
The decision on the Whitehaven mine was made in line with approval from the independent Planning Inspectorate earlier that year, and with the local county council granting approval three years ago for West Cumbria Mining to dig for coking coal until 2049.
When approached for comment, a government spokesperson said: “The secretary of state has agreed to grant planning permission for a new metallurgical coal mine in Cumbria as recommended by the independent planning inspector.
“The reasons for the secretary of state’s decision are set out in full in his published letter, alongside the report of the independent planning inspector who oversaw the inquiry. It would be inappropriate to comment further given ongoing legal proceedings.”