Is there a clash between the government’s plans to achieve Net Zero and its aspirations to level up parts of the North and Midlands? It certainly seems that way, after the Planning Secretary Robert Jenrick last night U-turned and launched an inquiry into the construction of a new coal mine in Cumbria, which would provide coal for the construction of steel. His decision to ‘call in’ the planning application came after the US climate envoy John Kerry told the BBC this week that ‘coal is not the future’.
Jenrick’s decision has exposed a rift in the Tory party, between a government keen to make a success of the UN climate summit, COP26, held in Glasgow later this year, and backbench MPs fighting for the North and Midlands to be ‘levelled up’. Several Tory MPs have publicly supported the coal mine, pointing out that it will create at least 500 jobs in Whitehaven, an area that desperately needs investment and a diversification of its economy.
The proposed mine is in Copeland represented by the Tory MP Trudy Harrison, who in February suggested that anyone who thought the UK wouldn’t need steel for construction – and therefore rely on the coking coal from the Cumbrian mine – was living in ‘cloud cuckoo land’. Rather awkwardly, Harrison is Boris Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary.
Meanwhile, Jenrick’s decision to call in the mining decision has been celebrated by environmental groups, who have opposed the opening of the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years. In his letter announcing the inquiry, Jenrick said that new factors had influenced his decision, such as the independent Climate Change Committee warning that a new deep coking coal mine would increase global emissions. However, the frustration among disgruntled Red Wall MPs is that if the product is not created here, it will simply be ordered in from elsewhere.