Park warns of tough choices as mine bill soars

The York potash site
The York potash site
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THE chief executive of a cash-starved Yorkshire national park authority has warned “extremely tough decisions” will have to be made and key services affected owing to an unexpected six-figure bill to deal with delays blighting a proposed £1bn mining operation.

The plans for the potash mine in the North York Moors National Park have been hit by a series of delays which has meant 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 North York Moors National Park Authority’s chief executive, Andy Wilson, told the Yorkshire Post yesterday 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 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 has been delayed once again from when a verdict had been initially expected to be made in July this year.

While the exact figure has yet to be finalised, Mr Wilson told the Yorkshire Post that 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.

“To find funding for a particularly large planning application is happening at a very difficult time for us with the savings we are already having to deal with,” he said. “We had prepared for the planning process by setting aside money from our reserves, but this has now been allocated.

“To have to find a very significant sum once again for a one-off expenditure is especially daunting and extremely tough decisions will have to be taken. The money will have to be found, and this will inevitably impact on things we provide in the national park.”

The authority is petitioning the Government for an overhaul of regulations which would allow planning authorities to recoup a greater amount from developers who have submitted applications for massive developments.

The figure which can be obtained in planning fees is capped at £60,000, although Planning Minister Nick Boles has written to the North York Moors Park Authority chairman Jim Bailey, to inform him that discussions are under way with the Local Government Association about reviewing the regulations.

Chris Fraser, the managing director and CEO of York Potash’s parent company, Sirius Minerals, was adamant every effort is being made to submit a planning application at the earliest opportunity for the mine, which is earmarked for a site near Sneaton to the south of Whitby.

He said: “The company is completing its planning work as quickly, thoroughly and efficiently as possible. The money spent on determining the application is a matter wholly for the national park authority to consider as the company has already paid an application fee, as well as funding through a planning performance agreement.”

The park authority’s grant from the Government is being reduced by 21.5 per cent from £5.1m in 2011/12 to £4.3m by 2014/15. The Yorkshire Post understands some of the unexpected costs for dealing with the planning application could be covered by a proportion of the £200,000 savings that are being made by axing the popular Moorsbus scheme.