The Heritage Railway Association has welcomed a decision to remove an amendment to the Energy Bill which would have seen an outright ban on domestic coal mining.
During a committee debate on the Energy Bill on June 20 an amendment proposed in the House of Lords to ban new coal mining, was removed. Andrew Bowie MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Energy Security, made the argument that there remains a place for domestically mined coal.
The committee heard that the focus of the narrative on coal had been too heavily on electricity generation alone without considering other uses for coal, many of which have no firm alternative.
Enjoy more Steams Days Magazine reading every month.
Click here to subscribe & save.
Andrew Bowie MP said: “Even when we phase out coal power stations, domestic demand for coal will continue in industries such as steel, cement and heritage railways, and that demand can be met by domestic resources on existing lines of deployment.
“A full prohibition of coal extraction, regardless of the circumstances or where that coal is going to be used—be that in steel, cement or a heritage railway—is likely to prevent extensions to existing operational mining, even where an extension would enable site restoration or deliver public safety benefits; cut across heritage mining rights in the Forest of Dean, which are important to its tourism offer; and, importantly, prevent domestic coal extraction projects from progressing that are seeking to supply industries that are still reliant on coal.”
The Energy Bill will pass to the House of Commons.
Andrew Bowie MP later went on to add: “I stress that it is really important that we ensure that the industries in the United Kingdom that rely on coal are able to rely on a domestic source for that coal – British coal – and not on imports from overseas, which will actually increase carbon emissions.”
Britain’s heritage railways use around 30,000 tonnes of coal a year, equivalent to that used by a single coal fired power station in a week.
Although research into alternative fuels for heritage steam locomotives is underway, none can yet completely replace the need for coal.
A complete end to UK coal production would threaten Britain’s heritage rail sector, already battling the cost pressures common in the visitor economy.
Heritage Railway Association Chief Executive, Steve Oates, said: “This move by government is incredibly welcome and demonstrates a growing understanding of the important place that heritage rail has in our cultural heritage and visitor economy.
“It’s also very reassuring to hear senior people in government recognise publicly that coal is not inextricably linked to power stations. And that they understand forcing remaining users to import coal from thousands of miles away would be more damaging to the environment than using domestically mined fuel.
“There’s still much work to do on ensuring access to a stable, long-term fuel for historic steam locomotives can be guaranteed, but this is an important milestone.”