The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, says his priority is: ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs.’ For Boris Johnson, it is: ‘Build, build, build.’
Last week, the Prime Minister declared his commitment to end unwarranted delays in the decision-making process, so as to make sure the planning system delivers the infrastructure and employment we all want.
Yet the Conservative Government has been deliberately obstructing a project that would safeguard hundreds of jobs in one of the most depressed areas of the North of England.
The secretary of state now responsible for the continued prevarication is Robert Jenrick — which is particularly ironic given his speedy go-ahead for a housing project proposed by the Conservative party donor Richard Desmond, a development which Jenrick’s own department had advised him to reject.
The Conservative Government has been deliberately obstructing a project that would safeguard hundreds of jobs in one of the most depressed areas of the North of England. The secretary of state now responsible for the continued prevarication is Robert Jenrick (pictured)
But the project over which Jenrick has been demonstrating masterly inactivity is not a property development in increasingly trendy East London: it is in Northumberland, and involves the development not of fashionable flats for yuppies working in the City of London, but a coal mine.
And what could be less fashionable or trendy than that?
This is the Highthorn scheme, put before Northumberland County Council in 2015 and approved by both Conservative and Labour elected officials. Their decision was later backed by the national Planning Inspector, who declared that ‘the national benefits of the proposal would clearly outweigh the likely adverse impacts’.
But in 2018, the then Housing and Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid (in the job now occupied by Jenrick), rejected the national Planning Inspector’s report.
The company behind the project, Banks Mining, took the matter to the High Court. The judge quashed the secretary of state’s objections (which were based on ‘the very considerable weight he gave to the adverse effects of the emissions of greenhouse gases’) declaring them to be ‘significantly inadequate’.
In a forensic demolition of the Government’s arguments, Mr Justice Ouseley declared: ‘The Planning Inspector thought the evidence and his reasoning merited the grant of permission … The secretary of state does not indicate … what evidence he had for any conclusion he reached, or by what reasoning he arrived at it.’
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak (pictured), says his priority is: ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs.’ For Boris Johnson, it is: ‘Build, build, build’
That was in November 2018. But Sajid Javid didn’t comply with the judgment. Neither did his successor, James Brokenshire. And nor has the latest incumbent, the increasingly beleaguered Robert Jenrick. For a Government which declares its determination to speed up planning decisions, this is hypocrisy on an industrial scale.
Jenrick’s officials had promised that its response would finally be made in April of this year, but we are now in July.
They blame the Covid-19 crisis for the continued delay, but this, of course, is a mere excuse. There is nothing in the effects of the virus that has the slightest relevance to this case, and nor are there any new ‘facts’ to be discovered.
No, the reason behind the Government’s obstruction and ill-will is that it likes to portray itself as the ‘world leader’ in the ‘battle against climate change’: and coal, of all forms of mass energy production, produces the greatest amount of CO2 emissions.
Is Boris Johnson (pictured) on the side of the broke or the woke? It’s time to choose, Prime Minister
In particular, Downing Street has been obsessed with its role as host of COP26 (the next meeting of the UN’s climate change intergovernmental conference) which had been scheduled for November this year in Glasgow.
The pandemic has caused that to be postponed, but the Government continues to be fixated on its image on that stage, and the need (as No 10 sees it) to have some sort of ‘brand leadership’ in the drive to reduce CO2 emissions.
But this whole business is an elaborate British con trick, at least in carbon accounting terms.
The Government’s ‘net zero carbon’ commitment makes no account of the emissions created elsewhere to supply the energy-intensive manufactured goods that we no longer produce.
As Dieter Helm, Oxford University’s Professor of Energy Policy, told the BBC last year: ‘The story of the past 20 years is that … we have been de-industrialising, and we’ve been swapping home production for imports, so even though it looks to the contrary, [our policies] have been increasing global warming… There are no plans in the net zero carbon target which address that.’
Professor Helm’s point is that China, in particular, has a high proportion of coal in energy used for manufacture — much higher than we do — so our offshoring of production actually increases global emissions. Indeed, China is now building almost 260 gigawatts of new coal-fired power generating capacity — in itself about the size of the entire existing U.S. coal-fired capacity.
Perhaps even more absurdly, blocking the Northumberland open-cast mining project (we are not talking about men going down pits) means that we will simply be importing more of the coal we still need for what’s left of our steel industry.
In the case of Banks Mining (a diverse energy business, operating 14 wind farms) this is an entirely British owned company, set up by Harry Banks (pictured) in 1976
Coal remains an essential mineral in the production of steel, acting as a chemical reductant in blast furnaces which reach temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees centigrade: roughly, one tonne of coal is required to produce 1.25 tonnes of crude steel.
Tata Steel, our biggest remaining producer, has declared that coal from the Highthorn project would be ‘ideally suited’ to its requirements.
As it is, the coal we still need is being, to an ever-greater extent, imported.
Last year, 86 per cent of our coal was brought in from overseas — compared with an import component of 46 per cent as recently as 2016. The blocking of new domestic mines has led to 6.8 million tonnes of coal being imported in 2019, of which over a third came from Russia.
So not only is the world’s CO2 not reduced, emissions are actually increased because of those generated by transporting the coal from Russia, the U.S. and even as far away as Australia. And it means saving the jobs of miners in those countries, not our own.
In the case of Banks Mining (a diverse energy business, operating 14 wind farms) this is an entirely British owned company, set up by Harry Banks in 1976. Over the years he has run 115 surface mines in the North of England.
Yet Banks, who was awarded an OBE for services to industry, will next month be closing his — and England’s — last one.
It is especially infuriating to the newly-elected Tory MPs who in last December’s election seized seats from Labour’s former ‘Red Wall’ in the North-East.
They describe this battle as ‘broke versus woke’ — and broke the 250 people who currently work in Banks Mining will certainly be if the Government continues to block the Highthorn scheme (which would be worth an estimated £100 million to the area).
One of Banks’ miners, Graham Henderson, says: ‘If Robert Jenrick gives our jobs to Russian miners, we would be livid about the betrayal.
One of Banks’ miners, Graham Henderson (pictured), says: ‘If Robert Jenrick gives our jobs to Russian miners, we would be livid about the betrayal’
‘Most of the lads on site voted Conservative for the first time last year because they believed them when they said they would look after the North. The ones we sent to Westminster haven’t forgotten those promises, but the others in Westminster don’t care about us.
‘We need a Prime Minister with the guts to tell the privileged fools of Extinction Rebellion that importing coal creates more carbon dioxide.’
Another working for the company told me: ‘Northumberland is a long way from the Savoy Hotel, where Robert Jenrick had his nice dinner with Richard Desmond.’
But this isn’t just a northern thing. Last week, a national opinion poll by Kantar (commissioned by Banks Mining) showed that no fewer than 87 per cent of Britons believed we should still produce steel, cement and bricks in the UK (all of which require coal in their manufacture).
And asked what they thought should be the Government’s ‘highest priority’, only 6 per cent ticked the box which said ‘reducing CO2 emissions’.
I am sure the PM’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, understands this very well. He is a Durham man — and Banks Mining is headquartered in County Durham.
So what’s it to be? Jobs, jobs, jobs? Or dole, dole, dole? Build, build, build? Or block, block, block?
Is Boris Johnson on the side of the broke or the woke? It’s time to choose, Prime Minister.