Greg Wright: The Sirius Minerals story shows it pays to have courage and vision

EIGHT years ago, The Yorkshire Post received a press release that seemed too outlandish to be true.

Sirius Minerals' site near Whitby
Sirius Minerals' site near Whitby

Was somebody really considering building a giant mine in the North York Moors? Surely the application would be swiftly sent to the rejection bin by councillors? 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?

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Today, bosses at Sirus Minerals are proving the sceptics and naysayers wrong. They are to be applauded for their patience, tact, determination and vision. They have developed a project that will make North Yorkshire’s economy less dependent on tourism and farming.

It’s impossible not to feel inspired by the giant mine that is being built by Sirius Minerals near the Yorkshire coast. The polyhalite project is one of the biggest private sector investments in the North of England.

When completed, it is expected to support thousands of skilled jobs and play a major role in boosting the scale of the UK’s exports. The mine will provide long term employment on a sophisticated project. The mine site is cleverly shielded from the surrounding world. You could drive past the front entrance and hardly be aware it was there.

The seam in North Yorkshire is one of the world’s finest deposits of potash. Apart from being a key component in fertiliser, potash can help to boost crop yields at a time when many are starving. So the North Yorkshire scheme could help to feed the world.

Sirius Minerals has announced that procurement is now complete for the major construction packages relating to stage 2 of the scheme’s financing, The company has signed an agreement with STRABAG for the fit out of the mineral transport system (MTS). The contract involves building a 23 mile underground conveyor system from the Woodsmith Mine, near Whitby, to Teesside. It will be designed to handle 20 million tonnes per year of polyhalite ore.

Chris Fraser, the managing director and CEO of Sirius, said: “Our efforts are now focused on the successful execution of our financing plan to fully finance the construction of our world-class, long-life polyhalite project.”

The new mine will have a transformational impact on the region’s economy and could help to improve global food security. It’s a £3.2bn capital investment project which is expected to generate £100bn for the UK economy over the next 50 years. Apart from creating 1,000, long-term, skilled jobs, the project is also set to support 1,500 supply chain jobs.

When the scheme was first proposed in 2011, the UK’s economy was still trapped in the deep freeze that followed the financial crash.

But bosses at Sirius held their nerve and calmly climbed over each obstacle that was placed in their way. They managed to allay fears about the mine’s environmental impact and started to secure support from investors.

Key figures from the mine project have made their home on the Yorkshire coast; a sign that they care about the local community and want to support the county’s economic growth.

In common with all coastal residents, the mine’s bosses have been infuriated by shortcomings in the train service. They haven’t been afraid to speak out on behalf of local people about the “hugely frustrating” cancellations and delays on the train system serving Scarborough.

There is, of-course, much work to be done. The company is targeting the close of the stage 2 financing in the first quarter of 2019. It aims to hit the first polyhalite in 2021 and be in full operation as quickly as possible afterwards.

The Sirius Minerals story shows what can be achieved when business leaders have the courage of their convictions and take a long term view. It’s the perfect riposte to the short-termism that blights so much of the City.