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Cumbria County Council has approved the planning application for the £165M Woodhouse coal mine in Cumbria.

The green light from the council – announced on Friday – comes despite campaigns from environmental activists who fear that the facility could hinder the UK’s net zero goals.

The proposed development is for a large underground metallurgical, or ‘coking coal’, coal mine. It would be excavating coal for use mainly in steel production – a key distinction in terms of environmental concerns, according to West Cumbria Mining chief executive Mark Kirkbride, who “fully supports” the phase out of coal for electricity.

Earlier this year, Boris Johnson announced that the deadline for the phase out of coal from Britain’s energy system would be brought forward a year to 1 October 2024. The last five coal-fired power stations stations – Ratcliffe on Soar, West Burton, Fiddlers Ferry, Kilroot and Drax – are all expected to close.

Meanwhile, domestic coal and certain types of wood are also to be banned from sale from next year in a bid to cut air pollution.

The coking coal involved in the Cumbrian mine is used exclusively in the manufacture of over 70% of the world’s steel, with more than 1.2bn.t used in global steel production around the world every year.

The coal is ‘baked’ in a coke oven which forces out impurities to produce coke. Modern steel plants include gas treatment and capture to reduce emissions. The steel produced is used in the likes of cars, kettles and trains, as well as in the manufacture of wind turbines and nuclear power stations.

West Cumbria Mining’s website emphasises that coking coal is “very different to thermal coal which is used to create steam to power turbines for creating electricity”.

However a report, published in January by independent thinktank Green Alliance, claims the coal mine is “incompatible” with the UK’s net zero goals.

It concludes that when burnt, the coal extracted from the mine would produce more than 8M.t of carbon dioxide per year – and identifies ways that the amount of coal used in steel production could actually be reduced.

These include using less steel, using recycled steel, improving the efficiency of steel production with conventional blast furnaces, and producing steel with new processes using renewable energy.

 The report says opening a new coal mine will hinder this strategy by ensuring the continued availability of cheap coal.

As such, it contests Cumbria County Council’s claim that the mine will be carbon neutral.

Cumbria County Council Development Control and Regulation Committee chair councillor Geoff Cook said: “Cumbria County Council’s Development Control and Regulation Committee has resolved to approve, through a majority vote, the application for West Cumbria Mining to create a metallurgical coal mine off the coast near Whitehaven subject to the completion of the section 106 legal agreement.

“This recommendation is still subject to the secretary of state’s decision on whether to ‘call in’ the council’s position for them to make their own determination on the matter or hand it back to Cumbria County Council to confirm and subsequently publish the decision.”