Potash mine plan on North York Moors hits new snag

Artist's impression of the proposed mine
Artist's impression of the proposed mine
Have your say

DEVELOPERS behind plans for a £1bn mining operation in a Yorkshire national park have confirmed today that a planning application for the controversial scheme is set to be revoked before new proposals are drawn up.

The project to exploit one of the world’s most extensive seams of potash in the North York Moors National Park has been beset by a series of delays.

But directors from Sirius Minerals, the company behind the proposals, maintained today that they are not expecting to deviate from a revised timescale announced last month.

A decision on the existing planning application had initially been due to be made by the North York Moors National Park Authority in July.

But Sirius Minerals confirmed in September that a revised planning application is now not expected to be submitted until the summer of next year due to growing concerns over the project’s impact on the landscape.

The company has also notified the national park authority that it may have to extend the boundary of the proposed mine to cover additional areas where it holds mineral rights, including near Cloughton and Whitby.

The areas fall outside of the national park boundary and would mean a new planning application would be required to be made to both North Yorkshire County Council and the national park authority.

However, the firm’s managing director and CEO, Chris Fraser, maintained the planning process would be streamlined, with the same application sent to both the council and the park authority.

He said: “The company is making good progress towards the approvals needed for the York Potash Project and the involvement of the county council is unlikely to impact our current timescales given its minerals planning experience.”

The mine is expected to create more than 1,000 jobs and a further 4,000 jobs in the wider economy from exploiting one of the world’s most extensive seams of potash, a key component in fertiliser.

But the North York Moors National Park Authority’s director of planning, Chris France, claimed there are “uncertainties regarding the likely value and market” for polyhalite, and questioned whether the predicted jobs and economic benefits could be delivered.

Sirius Minerals is adamant there is “significant global demand” for polyhalite and agreements secured in just nine months have covered 60 per cent of initial production targets.

The national park authority’s chief executive, Andy Wilson, told the Yorkshire Post this month that the total cost of dealing with the current planning application had reached £600,000 - although the bill is set to rise “by a very substantial figure”.

While £165,000 has been recouped from developers from York Potash - a subsidiary of Sirius Minerals - through planning submission fees and a so-called planning performance agreement which helped pay for the authority’s consultants, Mr Wilson admitted that £225,000 set aside from reserves had now all but run out.

He confirmed the authority is faced with an unexpected bill running into a six-figure sum after the decision on the mine’s planning application was pushed back once again.

While the exact figure has yet to be finalised, Mr Wilson confirmed budgets for other services would have to be raided to help finance the cost in dealing with a new planning application while the authority is faced with savage cuts to its funding from the Government.

A spokesman for Sirius Minerals confirmed today that the company is “progressing various planning work streams and studies” and is holding regular meetings with the national park authority.