Dewley Hill and our Climate Emergency

The coal mine proposal for Dewley Hill will be considered by planners just weeks after Newcastle City Council declares a climate emergency.

Coal has been extracted from across the North East and exported around the globe for hundreds of years. The well-known idiom, ‘To Carry Coals to Newcastle’, is a measure of the region’s success and pride in its coal mining history. Banks Mining have been at the forefront of coal extraction from surface mines in recent years and their planning application for land on the outskirts of Newcastle could see the removal of 800,000 tonnes of coal as well as fireclay.

Put simply, this coal must be kept in the ground. Decision makers have a difficult road ahead. There are pros and cons associated with coal extraction, and these will be considered alongside local and national policies. The benefits of employment and local investment will be offset by the ecological impact, pollution risks from dust and noise, and the effects of 1.2 million tonnes of minerals being transported by road. However, such complexities can be overlooked when we consider the proposals in terms of climate change. Put simply, this coal must be kept in the ground.

Newcastle City Council recognise that humans have already caused irreversible climate change, the impacts of which are being felt around the world. They declared a climate emergency earlier this month, endorsing the view that, “All government bodies have a duty to limit the negative impacts of Climate Change” (1). Will planners considering the Dewley Hill proposals understand that they must limit the production of fossil fuels if we’re to stand a chance of keeping global warming to less than 1.5 degrees.

Looking through the council’s local plan, it’s clear that they have numerous sustainability-led policies targeting the consumption of fossil fuels. For example, various policies support sustainable transport choices and energy efficient buildings. However, their policy on fossil fuel production is vague:

A contribution to the region’s supply needs will be made to ensure an adequate and steady supply of minerals in a way that supports the Councils’ social, environmental and economic objectives. This will be achieved by … proposals for energy mineral developments being determined in accordance with national policy. (2)

As part of the Guardian’s ‘Keep It In The Ground‘ campaign, George Monbiot writes, “The absence of official recognition of the role of fossil fuel production in causing climate change – blitheringly obvious as it is – permits governments to pursue directly contradictory policies” (3). Newcastle City Council must take care not to contradict their drive to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels by supporting production. They have a responsibility for ensuring that the 800,000 tonnes of coal at Dewley Hill is prevented from being burnt.

The IPCC have made it quite clear that our current trajectory of emissions is unlikely to keep us below the 1.5 degree threshold (4). Every year that goes by in which we aren’t reducing emissions sees another 40 billion tonnes of CO₂ added to our atmosphere. When the planning committee sits to consider proposals for Dewley Hill, they shouldn’t be sidetracked by the advantages and disadvantages of this particular development. Instead, they must consider the climate emergency that has been declared and simply vote to keep it in the ground.


References: 

Main image: UK Reclaim the Power – End coal now by Break Free (CC by 2.0)

(1) Climate emergency motion, City Council Meeting, 3rd April 2019.

(2) Policy CS20, Newcastle and Gateshead Core Strategy and Urban Core Plan, p.111.

(3) Keep fossil fuels in the ground to stop climate change, George Monbiot, The Guardian, 10 March 2015

(4) Why protesters should be wary of ‘12 years to climate breakdown’ rhetoric, Myles Allen, The Conversation, 18th April 2019

About Adam Vaughan

Adam Vaughan is an architect with a passion for low-energy environment-friendly buildings. After working abroad in Paris and Dublin, Adam returned to his native Newcastle in 2005 to join JDDK Ltd, a practice with a reputation for environmentally low-impact design, where he is now a Director.

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