Finding practical solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is everyone’s responsibility, and one of these solutions is undoubtedly mining the coal that the UK’s cement and steel industry still needs and the fireclay that its brickworks still need as close to their point of use as possible.
It is therefore very disappointing to see Mayor Driscoll parroting wildly inaccurate platitudes in his column in the Journal J2 (9/3) and displaying a complete lack of understanding of the realities surrounding UK industry’s continuing need for raw material including coal and fireclay.
As ‘the owners’ of the Bradley and Shotton surface mines and the developers of the proposed Dewley Hill and Highthorn mines, we have attempted to engage with him on this serious issue since he came into office a year ago, but he has refused to even talk to us about something that directly affects many hundreds of people and dozens of businesses in our supply chain based in the area he is supposed to represent.
We’d rather be having this dialogue directly with the Mayor who is responsible for economic development in an area where we are a major employer and investor, rather than indirectly through the pages of The Journal, but as he refuses to meet with us or with our 250 employees, whose future careers he wants to cast on the scrap heap, here we are.
If, as the Mayor blithely states (without bothering to back up his claim with any facts) ‘we don’t need the coal’, why is the UK continuing to import over 90% of the country’s coal from Russia, USA, Colombia and Australia, a proportion which in 2018 amounted to ten Million tonnes?
Even after the UK’s coal-fired power stations are closed down by 2024/5, UK industry will still need five to six million tonnes of industrial coal each year to make raw steel, cement and other specialists products. This includes lump coal for heritage railways (given your comment I think you should read the All Party Parliamentary Group report on Heritage Railways, or simply speak to one of the north east’s heritage railways to see the importance of the coal to them). Of course the greenhouse gas emissions related to the use of coal and coke will be the same regardless of where it is mined. Where is the environmental sense in hauling it thousands of miles from places like Russia, which scandalously already supplies almost half of the coal used in the UK, when we can mine and deliver it in the UK for significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions while also sustaining much-needed jobs and investment within his and our region?
This view was supported by government minister Kwasi Kwarteng in the House of Commons last week, when he noted that ‘from a coal and carbon emissions reduction point of view, it makes sense to have a locally-based coal source rather than shipping it in a very costly way halfway round the world.’
The Mayor makes the sensible point in his piece about preferring locally grown veg to veg flown in from overseas – so why take the polar opposite position when it comes to the coal that our industry still needs?
The direct consequence of preventing British industry accessing coal mined here will be to further increase the amount it is forced to import, which will unnecessarily add to the global volume of greenhouse gas emissions generated.
In other words, it would directly exacerbate the problem we are all looking to solve – and just for the record, Mayor Driscoll, as you appear to doubt our word, the coal that our skilled workforce produces at Bradley is not exported and is not for power stations. Of course, if you had taken the time to speak with us you would know this.
In 2018, the greenhouse gas cost of transport alone of 4.6 million tonnes of Russian coal was the equivalent of 130 jumbo jets flying non-stop around the world for a year, which is ludicrous when we can produce the coal here and remove thousands of carbon-miles from the process.
The Mayor’s efforts to ‘attract a company to the North of Tyne with a green steel recycling furnace’ are to be applauded, but according to the major steel companies that are working furiously to lower their carbon emissions, it is likely to take at least ten to 15 years to develop the technology to make raw steel at scale without coal and coke. Within what timeframe will this new plant be operational, Mayor Driscoll? Of course electric arc furnaces can recycle steel, but they cannot yet make the raw steel that we need to meet the country’s new infrastructure plans for new roads, railways and hospitals.
Hybrit is a pioneering Swedish Steel company that has started work toward building the world’s first fossil fuel-free steelworks which would be powered by hydrogen but the demonstration plant trials will not be completed until 2035 at the earliest. This is a fantastic step in the right direction to decarbonise steel, but it does not help in the next 10 to 15 years.
The best environmental option available today is to mine the coal and fireclay we still need as close to its point of use as possible, with clear environmental and safety regulations and controlled under the UK’s strict planning regime. It astounds me that Mayor Driscoll would wish to increase global greenhouse gas emissions by dragging coal thousands of miles from overseas and sacrificing northern jobs for Russian jobs!
As a North East family business that already operates at net carbon zero as a result of our long-standing renewable energy generation and landscape management displacing emissions from our own operations, we will continue to work to find solutions which support a managed transition towards the low carbon economy that we all want to see.
This isn’t a debate of left versus right – it’s one of pragmatic common sense versus wishful thinking and virtue signalling.
The simplistic assertion that ‘we don’t need the coal,’ which comes straight out of the Extinction Rebellion handbook, is completely without foundation or merit, and has no credibility whatsoever.
Our door remains open, Mayor Driscoll, if you would like to meet with us for a sensible discussion about this important issue, rather than choosing to run away from it.
This letter was published in The Journal letters page on Monday 16 March 2020. Many thanks to The Journal for giving us this right of reply.