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A decision on plans for a £165million deep coal mine to be created in West Cumbria may have to be taken at a physical meeting due to the number of requests to speak.

West Cumbria Mining’s application to extract coking coal off the coast of St Bees is due to be looked at for the third time by Cumbria County Council’s development control and regulation committee on August 20.

Councillors fear the number of people asking to make representations could be unmanageable at a virtual meeting and development control manager Paul Haggin revealed the council was looking into the possibility of holding a physical meeting for the first time in months.He said: “I have asked our colleagues in democratic services and legal to see if there is another way around this whereby we might actually use the physical venue to hold a meeting and have people perhaps in another room at a safe distance actually speaking into camera.”

Mr Haggin admitted that, with more than six weeks until that meeting is due to take place, it was difficult to predict how the picture could change regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

 “Hopefully things will get better and allow us to come back so that we have a physical presence,” he added.

A decision on the plans, which would also include a processing plant on the former Marchon site at Kells, was originally due to be made on Wednesday but was delayed due to the amount of comments generated by the project.

A spokesman for the county council said: “To ensure consideration of the high number of representations received with this application, the application will now be taken to the council’s development control and regulation committee for a decision at their August meeting.

“This is currently scheduled for August 20.”

The firm behind the plans, which were submitted in May 2017, has proposed a change in the way it would process the material, meaning only premium metallurgical coal would be processed.