The letter is below – apologies for any mistakes in copying and pasting but hopefully the gist is there. This is reproduced with WWF’s permission. There is no mention of the close proximity to Sellafield but otherwise it is a good letter.
To The Secretary of State via email, email@example.com
Dear Secretary of State,
15 July 2019
Supplementary (second) letter concerning request for call-in: Application reference number 4/17/9007, Former Marchon Site, Pow Beck Valley and area from Marchon Site to St Bees Coast, Whitehaven, Cumbria
I write on behalf of WWF-UK further to our previous letter of 9 April 2019 seeking call-in of the above planning application, the subject of a resolution to grant planning permission by Cumbria County Council on 19th March 2019. I write this further letter to highlight important developments since our last letter relevant to your decision- making on calling in the application.
Further developments relevant to Ground One (The proposal conflicts with national policy on important matters):
1. Government decision to adopt a net zero by 2050 target
Our previous correspondence made reference to the Government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008. As you will no doubt be aware, the Government recently accepted a recommendation by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) to change the target set out in s1(1) of the Act from an 80% reduction in the UK’s net carbon account from 1990 levels by 2050, to a target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As you will be aware, that important legislative change has now come into effect. The CCC has said it will move to providing detailed advice on the path to net zero, however it has stressed the need for “credible UK policies across government”.1 This echoes its report recommending a net zero target to the government, in which it states (p33):
“The net-zero challenge must be embedded and integrated across all departments, at all levels of Government and in all major decisions that impact on emissions.” Clearly the decision as to whether to call in Woodhouse Colliery is one such decision.
The CCC’s report makes other points pertinent to national policy in relation to this matter. It states (p34) that “Government must implement an approach to incentivise industries to reduce their emissions through energy and resource efficiency, electrification, hydrogen and CCS in ways that do not adversely affect their competitiveness”, which indicates that alternatives to coking steel will be required. At page 163 it refers to “further ambition options” (ie. more challenging and costly measures) from 2016 to 2050 to reduce consumption in particular areas, including demand reduction measures for industrial products such as steel which are difficult to decarbonise. On this basis it refers to a 30% reduction in the tonnage of iron and steel to be consumed in the UK between 2016 and 2050. One can reasonably expect the CCC’s upcoming advice on implementing the target to accord with its advice recommending the target. It is clear therefore that there are very significant shifts in national policy taking place that only deepen the conflict between national climate policy and this proposed project, lending further robustness to the arguments for call-in.
2. Need for coal production of this nature and impact on greenhouse gas emissions
In view of recent developments concerning the UK steel industry, we also wish to supplement the points made in our previous letter concerning coal mining and climate change. In our previous letter we referred to the “Highthorn” coal mine proposal and note that a key issue creating controversy during the planning inquiry2, court case3 and current decision-making process by the Secretary of State relating to Highthorn concerns the impact of the greenhouse gases arising from it. We further note that, similarly to the present case, a key area of concern relates to whether the proposal satisfies the test at paragraph 211 of the NPPF (set out in our previous letter) and in particular whether the benefits from it outweigh its likely environmental impacts. As in the present case, a further matter being canvassed is whether there would be an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the proposal or whether it would reduce emissions by substituting for imported coal and reducing the transport emissions from this.
There are clear parallels between these concerns and the “Woodhouse colliery” application that is the subject of this letter. The planning officer’s report (POR) in the present case concludes that the proposal is not environmentally acceptable on the basis of the test in paragraph 211 of the NPPF referred to in our previous letter despite having found that the proposal would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from importing coking coal. This is essentially because of harm from loss of ancient woodland (6.505), listed buildings and heritage assets (6.507) and landscape character (6.509). However, under the second stage of the test, the POR finds that the identified environmental harm would be outweighed by the need of the UK’s steel manufacturing industry for a secure supply of metallurgical coal, the benefit of such an indigenous supply (6.514), and local and community benefits in employment and investment terms (6.515, 6.516).
As such both the Highthorn and Woodhouse colliery cases raise questions as to the soundness of arguments that coal from the mine would necessarily substitute for imported coal, what the GHG saving from transport would be if there is arguably a substitution and whether there is really a need for the coal over the 50 year life of the site in view of the climate policy referred to in this and our previous letter. We note in this regard that the POR (6.50) assumes that if there were no need for coal then it would simply remain in the ground and would not generate GHG emissions. This however ignores the fact that substantial harm would have been caused to ecological and historic assets for no benefit, either in terms of meeting a domestic or potentially even European need, or in providing ongoing employment. In addition, by the time the mind is producing coal at capacity (ie. well into the 2020s), substantial progress will need to have been made in decarbonising the industries which would use the coal, by virtue of the requirements of the Clean Growth Strategy set out in our previous letter (see bottom of page 2 and top of page 3 of that letter). Given that the Clean Growth Strategy is based on a target that is has been further strengthened, this is even more of an imperative.
The Planning Officer’s Report notes at 6.412 that “around 180,000 tonnes of coking coal would be supplied annually to the UK steel plants at Scunthorpe and Port Talbot (360,000 tonnes total), with the remaining tonnage (just over 2 million tonnes) being transported to Redcar for onward distribution and / or export.” Yet British Steel is now in administration, with the existence of the steelworks at Scunthorpe at threat. The POR states (6.413) that there is “undoubtedly” a current demand within the UK and EU for coking coal, directly correlated to the demand for steel, although it is not possible to say how this demand will vary during the proposed lifetime of the development. It adds (6.414) that the UK government remains keen to support the steel industry and that it is therefore reasonable to assume that demand for steel and coking coal will exist both within the UK and EU for the foreseeable future. However, the reasonableness of this assumption is highly questionable given that rescue talks between the Government and British Steel failed and the company was put into receivership.
The POR takes the view that the extraction of coking coal in Whitehaven to meet European demand reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to transportation from other parts of the world and considers this an environmental benefit to be afforded moderate weight (6.502). However, there is nothing in the proposal restricting import of the coal to other European destinations only and therefore basing assumptions of greenhouse gas emissions reductions on this appears highly dubious. This is particularly the case given reports that British steel faced slumps in orders at EU level due to Brexit uncertainties, as well as being affected by the weakness of the pound since the EU referendum and US-China “trade wars”.
Further, the European steel market association global outlook 2019-20 describes the outlook for steel demand as “subdued”, stating “ that staying within these bounds without geoengineering requires the virtually complete elimination of fossil fuel emissions and fossil fuel infrastructure by 2050 and that global coal production must decline by 5886 million tonnes a year in 2015 t0 only 407 tonnes in 2050 – a reduction of around 93%.6 Given this and given the UK’s avowed global leadership on climate change- it intends to host next year’s crucial UNFCCC Conference of the Parties- pressing on with coal production on its own shores sends a particularly unwelcome signal
to the wider world.
WWF further consider that in weighing the impacts against benefits in accordance with paragraph 211 of the NPPF, account should be taken of, and weight afforded to the impacts on children now and in the future of construction and operation of the mine alongside any potential employment or investment benefits to the community now and in the future. As noted above, the mine will generate significant carbon emissions over the course of the next 50 years and for at least twenty years after the UK is required to meet its net zero greenhouse gas emissions target in 2050. By definition, the consequences of those emissions (eg: in terms of their contribution to global heating) and the responsibility to offset them (where necessary) to meet the new 2050 target will fall disproportionately on the young, impacting on their human rights including Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. In the case of DA & DS v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions the Supreme Court held that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) aids interpretation of the ECHR and requires public authorities to treat a child’s best interests as a primary consideration. In a case such as this, the legal duties referred to require that the differential impact on children of climate change (and related impacts such as air quality) should be specifically considered both in the planning application process and at inquiry. Given the failure to make any assessment of impacts on children during the application process, the case for consideration at inquiry is simply strengthened.
It is also worth noting that a decline in global coal production is inherent in limiting global temperature increase to 1.5C. Modelling released on this by a group of 20
The base case scenario for the
development of final steel use shows only marginal growth in 2019 and 2020. Given the uncertainty that currently surrounds the EU steel market in terms of
We consider that it is necessary to call in the application to ensure proper testing of all of the above arguments and those made by us previously, which will have long term consequences of national importance. It is also important to ensure consistency with the same arguments as are currently under consideration in the Highthorn case. In our view, these factors lead to a clear conclusion that, to echo the most recent Ministerial statement relating to call-in this decision needs to be taken by the Secretary of State and is not best left with the local planning authority.
Director of Advocacy WWF-UK