image copyrightWest Cumbria Mining Company
The government is to hold a public inquiry to examine whether a controversial new coal mine should be allowed to go ahead in Cumbria.
Ministers had been warned the proposal is damaging the UK’s reputation in the run up to a major UN climate summit.
Local leaders have now been told Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick will intervene because “controversy about the application has increased”.
Labour says ministers have been “forced to act” after “months of pressure”.
In a letter to Cumbria County Council, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said Mr Jenrick believed the application had raised issues of “more than local importance”.
It says this is an occasion when it is “appropriate” for the secretary of state to use so-called “call in” powers to determine the outcome of the process by holding a local inquiry.
The development means ministers will take control of the planning process.
The prime minister has been warned that the planned coal mine is damaging his reputation, at a time when the UK seeks to lead the world on climate change. It is hosting the COP26 summit in Glasgow later this year.
Supporters say the mine will create hundreds of jobs and produce coal needed for UK steel, but government climate advisers say it is bad for the planet.
Last month it was reported that the government’s climate tsar, Alok Sharma, was apoplectic the plans for the coal mine near Whitehaven had not been stopped.
Mr Sharma, who is in charge of preparations for COP26, has faced called to resign.
The government could still decide to approve the mine, but given the amount of anger it’s caused that seems unlikely – at least until after the UN climate conference.
Local Conservatives strongly supported the scheme and the employment it would bring.
But the government’s climate advisors, along with a crowd of green groups, warned it would increase carbon emissions when the UK’s committed to cutting them.
What’s more, it would harm Britain’s international reputation before the UN conference, they said.
One of the world’s leading climate scientists, the American James Hansen, warned Boris Johnson risked humiliation over the mine.
The US climate envoy John Kerry warned against it on Monday. And yesterday Alok Sharma was again rebuked by MPs over the plan.
It was too much pressure.
Tom Fyans from the countryside charity CPRE said it was “a victory for common sense”.
“It’s great to see the government finally showing decisive leadership on the environment” he said.
“Ahead of COP26 and with the looming threat of the climate emergency, we hope that this is the first of many decisions that show government can walk the walk, not just talk the talk. ”
Local MP Tim Farron said: “In the year that Britain hosts COP26, it is blindingly obviously that we won’t be taken seriously on the world stage with this coal mine hanging round our neck.”
He added: “I hope this public inquiry leads to these plans finally being axed, and the government instead looks at bringing well-paid, long-term, green jobs to Cumbria.”
The shadow environment secretary, Ed Miliband, said ministers had been “forced into action” after months of pressure.
He added: “The truth is that this mine is terrible for our fight against climate change, won’t help our steel industry and won’t create secure jobs.
“The saga of this mine is a symptom of a government that isn’t serious about its climate ambitions and refuses to invest at scale in a green future to provide the jobs that workers have a right to expect.”
But the Conservative MP Mark Jenkinson said his disappointment in the announcement “cannot be understated”.
He said it represented “a capitulation to climate alarmists” and was a “complete reversal of the position taken just eight weeks ago”.