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MPs have spoken in support of a new coal mine near the Lake District as the public inquiry into the controversial proposal got underway.

Conservative member of parliament for Workington Mark Jenkinson insisted there was “widespread support from the Cumbrian public” for the £165M underground “coking coal” facility near Whitehaven.

And fellow Tory Lee Anderson, a former coal miner who now represents the East Midlands constituency of Ashfield, said: “If we are really serious about protecting the planet, we should get behind this venture. We have a chance to export greener mining technology to help reduce carbon emissions all around the world.”

An application to create the facility – touted as the world’s first net zero carbon mine – was approved by Cumbria County Council last October but communities secretary Robert Jenrick intervened and called in the proposals this March. The public inquiry was opened by planning inspector Stephen Normington on Tuesday (7 September).

Ashfield MP Lee Anderson (top right) speaks at the public inquiry into plans for a coal mine near Whitehaven in Cumbria

Ashfield MP Lee Anderson (top right) speaks at the public inquiry into plans for a coal mine near Whitehaven in Cumbria

Project promoter West Cumbria Mining said ahead of the hearing beginning that it “looks forward” to explaining its plans.

The firm said the mine would feed the British and European steel industry with locally produced metallurgical coal essential for the manufacture process.

British steelmakers currently import all of the metallurgical coal needed for plants at Scunthorpe and Port Talbot, said the body, creating carbon emissions from thousands of miles of ship and rail transportation. The Woodhouse Colliery would create 532 direct jobs, it added.

West Cumbria Mining chief executive Mark Kirkbride said before the inquiry got underway: “We have considered the climate impacts of the project in great detail and implemented significant and world-leading techniques to demonstrate that the resources industry can also achieve net carbon zero operations.”

Campaign charity South Lakes Action on Climate Change will challenge the mining company at the inquiry.

Spokesperson Maggie Mason said: “Our expert witnesses show that the coal from this mine is not the type that the UK and EU steel industry needs, so it would not replace current imports. And, in any case, the European steel industry is moving away from using coal because it has to meet stringent new targets to tackle climate change.”

The public inquiry is expected to last for around a month, after which a planning inspector’s report will be submitted to the secretary of state to inform a final decision on whether the scheme can go ahead.