Business case for Anglo American's £7bn Whitby fertiliser mine remains strong: Greg Wright

To achieve lasting success in the corporate world, audacity must always be matched with tenacity.

Just ask anyone who has backed plans to build a mine on the Yorkshire coast over the last 13 years. Now is the time for the project’s supporters to hold their nerve. Mining giant Anglo American’s announcement that it will slow down development of the £7bn fertiliser mine near Whitby sent shockwaves around the business community. The move will help Anglo American’s balance sheet’s deleverage, at a time when it is fighting a takeover bid from rival firm BHP

Bosses at Anglo American, say the project – known as Woodsmith – remains central to the group’s growth plans, although they acknowledge their statement will create uncertainty. It involves the creation of a new mine near Sneaton south of Whitby and a 23-mile tunnel that will transport a naturally occurring mineral, polyhalite, to new processing and shipping facilities on Teesside. It is intended the product will be sold globally as a fertiliser suitable for organic use to boost crop yields and support sustainable farming.

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To appreciate the scheme’s value, you have to consider the obstacles it has faced just to get this far. In 2011, The Yorkshire Post received a press release that seemed too bizarre to be true.

Polyhalite could support a more efficient way of feeding the world, says Anglo American (Photo supplied by Anglo American)Polyhalite could support a more efficient way of feeding the world, says Anglo American (Photo supplied by Anglo American)
Polyhalite could support a more efficient way of feeding the world, says Anglo American (Photo supplied by Anglo American)

Was somebody really thinking about building a giant mine in the North York Moors?

Would anybody seriously consider such a vast industrial undertaking in one of Britain’s favourite beauty spots?

Was it possible that beneath the hills lurked a stash of potash that could create a mini-version of the Klondike? The company originally behind the scheme – Sirus Minerals - proved the sceptics wrong, for a time at least.

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Bosses at Sirius secured planning permission for their polyhalite fertiliser mine and started work on the site in 2017.

However, the scheme was taken over by Anglo American in 2020 after Sirius was unable to deliver all of the stage two financing for the mine, in a move that was not welcomed by some shareholders.

The team at Sirius battled massive odds to fight for a mining scheme that could transform North Yorkshire’s economy.

They developed a project that could make the local economy less dependent on tourism and farming. Over the last four years, Anglo American has moved the project forward, despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

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To put it bluntly, this scheme is simply too big to fail. Anglo American has already invested £2bn in the mine, and nearly 18 miles of the 23-mile tunnel has already been built. The project cannot be allowed to stumble as the finishing tape finally comes into sight.

The long term business case for developing the mine remains. We need to grow more food while fighting climate change.

Polyhalite could support a more efficient way of feeding the world.

Anglo American and its shareholders must not lose sight of the bigger prize; the opportunity to build a mine which could turn the group into a global leader in sustainable crop nutrition.

Greg Wright is the deputy business editor of The Yorkshire Post

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