NATIONAL park chiefs have warned that contentious plans for a £1bn mining operation still face major challenges despite developers allaying concerns over the impact on a radar base on the front-line of the war on terror.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had raised fears the proposed potash mine in the North York Moors National Park could lead to subsidence which would play havoc with ultra-sensitive monitoring equipment at the nearby RAF Fylingdales.
However, Sirius Minerals, the parent company of York Potash, has held talks with the MoD and subsequently drawn up detailed planning conditions which have now been submitted to the North York Moors National Park Authority.
The authority’s director of planning, Chris France, confirmed that the MoD is now due to withdraw its holding objections after the conditions satisfied its concerns.
Sirius Minerals has agreed to introduce an exclusion zone for mining around the RAF base, and monitoring equipment will be installed to assess vibrations.
The company is also due to submit a detailed plan to specify how it intends to carry out the blasting of the mine shafts.
Mr France stressed that formal objections, which have been submitted by both the Environment Agency and Natural England, still remain and are unlikely to be resolved ahead of a planning committee meeting to be held early in July.
He said: “These are still significant objections and it will be extremely difficult for the developers to provide the relevant information which has been requested ahead of the meeting on July 2.
“It will be a huge challenge as we are working to a very tight timescale and a decision will be made in a matter of weeks.”
Mr France told the Yorkshire Post in March that the MoD’s objections had the potential to be a “showstopper” for the mine, which would provide a massive economic boost for the regional economy.
The Government has been lining up the air base at Fylingdales, high on the North York Moors, to be in the forefront of a global battle against rogue terrorist nations with a growing need to monitor satellites and the potential for them to guide missile strikes.
But it emerged two months ago that the mining operation is expected to be extend to less than a mile from the edge of the base’s estate, prompting concerns over the impact it could have on national and international defence.
The Environment Agency’s objections were lodged after it requested hydrology data to ensure the mine does not affect water supplies to Whitby and Scarborough. Natural England has asked for information about the impact the mine would have on protected moorland, which is the habitat for rare species including nightjars, merlins and golden plovers.
But directors at Sirius Minerals were adamant relevant research has been conducted and information would be provided to allay concerns expressed in the formal objections.
A spokesman stressed it was hoped any outstanding concerns would be dealt with by the national park authority introducing stringent planning conditions if the planning application which is due to be considered on July 2 is approved.
The managing director of Sirius Minerals, Chris Fraser, admitted the MoD’s decision to withdraw its objections was a major hurdle to clear in the hope of securing planning permission for the potash mine.
He said: “We welcome the MoD’s intention to remove the objection following the submission of extra technical information showing that RAF Fylingdales will not be affected by the York Potash Project impact.
“Planning conditions are a sensible way to ensure important consultees are given comfort on our on-going commitment to the issues they raise, without incurring unnecessary delays.”