Whitehaven coal mine: Plan continues to divide opinion
Cumbria is set to be the location for the UK's first major coal mine in more than 40 years. Will the return of a traditional industry to an economically-deprived area a chance for regeneration - or is it a backward move, out of step with the times, that its critics say will fail to live up to expectations? Haig Colliery opened in 1916 and provided employment to generations of men in Whitehaven. "It's the bedrock that's built the town to be perfectly honest," said Gerard Richardson, the deputy lord lieutenant of Cumbria, amateur historian, and advocate for the new mine. "And on top of that the various mining disasters have left blood in the soil, families' blood. My old grandda' was killed in the last mining disaster. "So people have got it ingrained in their history. And personal, it's not just town history." Haig closed in 1986 with the loss of 3,500 jobs. Dave Craddock worked at the mine and said closure was devastating. "The heart went out of the town," he said. "You could see a lot of people were, 'what are we going to do now?'. "I lost my purpose. I walked away from mining and built myself another career with the Royal Mail, but it wasn't the same, just wasn't the same." West Cumbria Mining now wants to build a deep shaft coal mine to dig out coking coal. It would be used to fire blast furnaces that make steel. The government's advisory Climate Change Committee says 85% of the coal produced is likely to be exported. Its backers say the mine will create 500 direct jobs and another 1,500 in the supply chain and local economy. Under the plans the mine would be able to operate until 2049. In the centre of Whitehaven there's an empty branch of the men's clothing chain Burtons. High above the street level is an ornate plaque which reads Montague Burton Tailors of Taste. It's a throwback to a bygone, more prosperous era. It now has ads flyposted to its windows and unopened mail posted through the front door. I met Mike Starkie, the elected mayor for Copeland, which includes Whitehaven, outside the store. He was keen to point out the investment there has been into the area, but I asked him what it's like seeing the empty Burton's building. "It's heart-breaking," he said. "We need to reinvent the town. It needs a lot of investment into it. "Companies like West Cumbria Mining coming here will help expediate that journey because it will bring far more money and prosperity into the area." Green campaigners say the mine is a backward step, given the government's intention to be net carbon neutral by 2050. The government's own climate adviser Lord Deben described the proposal as "indefensible". Green Party councillor Jill Perry said: "Mines should be consigned to history really. "I think there's nostalgia among the Whitehaven population - in fact for the whole of west Cumbria - for the history of mining, the camaraderie of being down the mine. "And I think with all nostalgia you remember the good bits and forget the bad bits, so it's a difficult sell to say 'no - you can't have these 500 jobs'." Instead, she said there should be investment in green infrastructure and employment - a scheme to insulate people's homes, more money for public transport. She said such moves would directly provide as many jobs as the mine, and help reduce the impacts of climate change. The mine has been given planning permission, only to have it withdrawn repeatedly over the last few years. In December last year it looked like a final decision had been made. The government minister Michael Gove approved the proposals after a planning inquiry recommended giving it the go ahead. South Lakes Action on Climate Change and Friends of the Earth (FOE) then called for the High Court to quash government approval for the mine. Last month, that legal challenge was rejected . But Friends of the Earth said it was continuing its challenge. "We're not taking a challenge for the sake of it," said Katie de Kauwe, a lawyer for Friends of the Earth. "We believe there are fundamental legal errors in what the government has done." A hearing in their case is expected towards the end of the month. That could lead to a trial towards the end of the year to decide if the government needs to reconsider the issue. That could mean a final, final decision on the mine may not come until 2024. I asked West Cumbria Mining if it had anything to say about the debate raging around the plans. It said: "As WCM is an interested party in an ongoing legal challenge it would be inappropriate to comment at this stage." The one thing everyone you speak to in Whitehaven agrees on is the area needs investment and it needs jobs. But where that should come from, and what those jobs should be, remain as divisive they were when the mine was first proposed six years ago. You can hear more about battle over Cumbria's proposed coal mine on BBC Sounds here https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct4mth Coal mine legal challenge rejected Legal challenge to be launched over new coal mine First UK coal mine in decades approved Burglary victim, 92, left too fearful to sleep after woman's daytime raid South Cumbria Multi-Academy Trust staff inspired by speakers Cumbria coroner writes to Network Rail urging them to take action LGBTQ+ community invited to hear how they can become foster parents at Pride event Criminal cash turned into knockout community support LGBTQ+ community invited to hear how they can become foster parents at Pride event Morocco rescuers dig with bare hands as foreign aid sent US denies Cold War with China in historic Vietnam visit How Russia and West agreed on Ukraine G20 language How Russia and West agreed on Ukraine G20 language US denies Cold War with China in historic Vietnam visit 'Everyone in this village is either dead or missing' A Serbian scientist's long quest to name Srebrenica's dead How chronic pain feels for me. Video How chronic pain feels for me Guyana scrambles to make the most of oil wealth The spongy creatures cleaning Zanzibar's oceans. Video The spongy creatures cleaning Zanzibar's oceans Inside a 'hijacked' South African building. Video Inside a 'hijacked' South African building The rise and fall of a parenting influencer Florida's first hurricane-proof town The greatest spy novel ever written? Why is everyone crazy about Aperol? 2023 BBC.