Polyhalite mine on the North Yorkshire Coast plans to increase workforce

Anglo American, the new owner of the polyhalite mine on the North Yorkshire coast, said the impact of Covid-19 on the project’s development has been limited due to the successful implementation of appropriate health measures.

Red Arrows fly over the polyhalite mine on the North Yorkshire coast

The firm said that despite the challenges of constructing during lockdown, strict temperature monitoring, social distancing and hygiene measures have meant that work has been able to be carried out safely.

The workforce has increased from around 600 in May to nearly 1,000 by the end of July, with more expected to be added in the coming months.

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The firm said that development of the Woodsmith Project has continued in line with expectations. The plan for the mine involves tunnelling under North York Moors National Park to exploit what is said is the world’s largest deposit of polyhalite, a multi-nutrient fertiliser.

Gareth Edmunds, external affairs director for Anglo American’s crop nutrients business Woodsmith Project, said: “After a brief pause at the beginning of the outbreak, we’ve been able to continue construction under new enhanced operating procedures based on and in some areas exceeding Government guidelines.

“We remain vigilant of the risk and will continue to do all we can do to keep everyone safe. It is important for the area that this project gets built and that we continue to deliver the jobs and opportunities for local businesses that are needed now more than ever.”

During the lockdown, the company gave £20,000 to food banks in Redcar & Cleveland and to a meal delivery service for vulnerable people in Whitby, and also donated laptops to a local school to help with student remote learning.

The project’s charitable arm, the Sirius Minerals Foundation, granted £20,000 to local charities, and intends to launch a post-Covid recovery fund in the coming weeks.

Mr Edmunds said: “We’ve been fortunate to have not been too badly affected by the coronavirus crisis - we’re continuing to build and will actually be adding to our workforce later in the year as our shaft sinking operations ramp up.

“But we are acutely aware that many people in the community have been badly impacted and will continue to be. We want to make sure that the opportunities and benefits this project brings to the area are spread as widely as possible.”

Anglo American is building two, one-mile deep mine shafts near Whitby to access a vast 2.3 billion tonne deposit of the mineral polyhalite, which will be sold around the world as a natural fertiliser.

The underground mine will be connected to a 23 mile long tunnel, which will transport the ore to Teesside for processing and shipping. The firm said this will avoid any impact on the countryside above.

It said the tunnelling operation has reached 4.5 miles so far and continues to progress well.

At the mine site, a giant mine shaft construction machine is currently being assembled and it is expected to start excavating later this year. It will be only the third time that the state of the art ‘Shaft Boring Roadheader’ has been used anywhere in the world, to dig what will be one of the deepest mine shafts in Europe.

Anglo American expects to invest around £235m in both 2020 and 2021 on the ongoing development of the project, including building the mineshafts and the first section of the tunnel from Teesside.

The next stage will be to complete the mine, tunnel, processing and shipping facilities in order to bring the mine into production.