The former boss of British Steel has questioned the need for a new coal mine in West Cumbria, saying there is already a global oversupply of coking coal for steelmaking.
Speaking to The Times, Ron Deelan said the levelling up secretary Michael Gove would be contradicting the government’s net-zero pledge if he approved the mine at Woodhouse Colliery, near Whitehaven.
Supporters of the mine, which include Copeland’s MP Trudy Harrison and Mayor Mike Starkie, are urging Mr Gove to approve the plans on the grounds that it would create around 500 jobs and it would reduce the UK’s reliance on imported coal for steelmaking from overseas, including from Russia and the USA.
The Planning Inspectorate has submitted its findings to Mr Gove after conducting a public inquiry into the mine last year.
He has made a recommendation and it is now over to the Secretary of State who must either approve or refuse the proposal by July 7.
The proposals were called in by the Planning Inspector after Cumbria County Council said it would look again at the plans for a fourth time, after three prior approvals.
Mr Deelan, who stepped down as chief executive of British Steel last June, said the coal would be exported to other countries and would “delay (those countries’) conversion to green steel”.
He said that British Steel was already planning to invest in an electric arc furnace which runs on renewable energy, instead of coal, for steel production and that he believed it nor Tata Steel, the UK’s other steelmaker, would use the coal from West Cumbria.
There was already an oversupply of coking coal for steelmaking around the world, he added.
The plans by West Cumbria Mining have also been condemned by other UK steel industry figures.
The chief executive of the Materials Processing Institute, which carries out research for the steel industry, rubbished claims that the mine would reduce the country’s reliance on Russian coal.
Chris McDonald said Tata Steel had already stopped buying Russian coal and that British Steel was unlikely to use the West Cumbrian coal due to its high sulphur content.
“So there isn’t going to be any impact on Russian coal imports which we are largely weaned off anyway,” he said.
“There is no reason from the perspective of the UK steel industry why the mine should go ahead. I’m frustrated that proponents of the mine argue that the mine must go ahead for reasons to do with the steel industry. No one in the steel industry is calling for this mine.”
It is expected that about 85 per cent of the coal from the £160 million mine would be exported.