Future of Coal in the UK

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 3rd December 2020.

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Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Conservative, Ashfield 2:17 pm, 3rd December 2020

I stand here as a proud ex-coal miner from a long line of coal miners stretching back over 100 years in Ashfield, but I am not here to take a trip down memory lane. I am here to talk about the future of coal in this country.

The coal industry has got a good future. As we come out of the covid crisis, our country will look to new infrastructure projects around the UK to level up the red wall left-behind areas such as Ashfield and Eastwood, where I am from. To deliver on those projects we will need steel, and lots of it. The UK consumed 7.9 million tonnes of coal in 2019, 3 million tonnes of that was used for the steel industry, and 6.8 million tonnes was imported. That cannot be right. If we are using coal in this country to make steel, we should be mining the coal in this country and not importing it from the US, Russia and Australia. This is not a debate on the rights and wrongs of using coal, because we are already using it, and we need it. This debate is about admitting that there is a significant demand for coal in the UK, not just for the steel industry but for making cement, heritage railways and domestic heating.

Importing coal comes at a massive cost. Once all the coal-fired power stations cease in 2024, we will still need about 5 million tonnes of coal a year. Therefore, I would argue for the general economic and environmental case to obtain the coal by mining it here at home. An estimated 2 million tonnes of steel will be needed for HS2, and to produce that amount of steel we will need 1.6 million tonnes of coal. That should be British-mined coal, and it would keep up to £200 million in the UK economy as we would not be importing it, as well as retaining supply chain contracts worth an estimated £48 million to local businesses.

Mining the coal in the UK massively cuts greenhouse gases and results in the saving of significant carbon emissions, as we do not have to import from abroad. But where can we mine the coal that is needed for our steel industry? Well, we have the Woodhouse colliery in Cumbria, which—if it opens—will extract metallurgical, high-quality coking coal, which will then be used to produce high-quality steel right on our doorstep. The irony of all this is the high-quality steel produced from that coal could be used not only for infrastructure projects but to produce the equipment that green energy providers need. Fossil fuel can be used to drive forward green energy production.

The new coal mine in west Cumbria will provide about 500 new jobs for the next generation of brave British coalminers, and it could create another 1,000 jobs in the region as employees will have more disposable income, which will impact on local spending. West Cumbria needs all the investment and jobs it can muster, and a thriving coal industry working alongside the nuclear industry in the region could help provide financial security for Cumbrian families for decades to come. Thus, if we do have to use coal, it should be from this country, providing jobs for our local working-class young people, offering an immediate boost to the levelling-up agenda that the Government pride themselves on.

None of us doubts that coalmining will end in the UK, but we have an opportunity to resurrect deep mining to help us deliver on the green agenda that we have promised the UK. Let us put things right by ending deep mining on a high, with a legacy of producing British coal to make British steel to make British products while creating British jobs.