Legal challenges to Cumbrian coal mine go to High Court

Two legal challenges to the government’s decision to allow a controversial new coal mine in Cumbria are to be heard at the High Court.

Opponents of a new coal mine in Cumbria, approved by the UK government.
Photo: Friends of the Earth

The cases, brought by Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC), will now be considered at a three-day hearing.

The coal mine, near Whitehaven, has been linked legally to the onshore oil site at Horse Hill in Surrey.

It emerged this week that the company behind the mine, West Cumbria Mining Ltd, had been given permission to intervene in a separate, landmark, challenge over oil production at Horse Hill.

This means West Cumbria Mining can participate in the Horse Hill case, brought by campaigner Sarah Finch and due to be heard at the Supreme Court on Wednesday 21 June 2023.

Ms Finch has argued that the planning approval for oil production and further drilling at Horse Hill should have taken into account the carbon emissions that would result from using the oil, known as downstream emissions.

Instead, Surrey County Council considered only the emissions from the process of extracting the oil.

In the Cumbria case, Friends of the Earth and SLACC also argued that the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, should have considered the climate impacts when he granted planning permission for the mine in December 2022.

The organisations say Mr Gove failed to take into account the downstream emissions from burning coal extracted from the mine.

Maggie Mason, of SLACC, described today’s decision as “positive and sensible”. She said:

“SLACC members and supporters will observe the Finch versus Surrey County Council Hearing in June, and hope that the death and destruction caused by burning oil and gas will, in future, be taken into account before any new mines and oil wells are given planning permission.”

Friends of the Earth campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said:

“We believe the Secretary of State made significant climate-related errors when he granted planning permission for this development, and that his decision was unlawful.

“With climate breakdown accelerating even faster than scientists predicted, it’s more important than ever that ministers’ decisions reflect the long-term interests of people and the planet, and not misguided short-term political considerations.”

The Friends of the Earth/SLACC case is likely to be heard in summer or autumn 2023.

It will be what is known as a “rolled-up hearing”, where the judge considers both the request for the challenge and the substance of the case.

The three-day hearing replaces a date next week, when Friends of the Earth and SLACC were due to seek permission for their challenges.

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