DEVELOPERS behind plans for a controversial gas plant have admitted a pipeline could have to be re-routed across a Yorkshire national park to preserve archaeological sites dating back to the Bronze Age.
Exploratory excavations are under way to establish if there are any major finds along the proposed five-mile route of the pipeline in the North York Moors to link the well-head with a processing plant.
The scheme to exploit natural gas reserves will be one of the largest of its kind in the North of England, and is expected to be operational by the end of 2015. It is due to generate enough gas each day to meet the annual energy needs of up to 1,600 homes.
Senior officials from the company behind the project, Moorland Energy, have told the Yorkshire Post they are prepared to draw up a new route for the pipeline if relics dating back as far as 4,000 years are found.
There are 839 scheduled monuments within the North York Moors National Park – nearly a third of the total for the entire Yorkshire and Humber region. The monuments range from Rievaulx Abbey to standing stones and burial mounds dating from the Bronze Age.
Planners at the North York Moors National Park Authority confirmed it is likely new finds could be unearthed as the pipeline’s proposed route is across upland pasture areas which have not been disturbed by farming.
The director of planning, Chris France, said: “There are conditions attached to the planning permission, and there will a very close watching brief on the archaeological work that is being carried out.
“As with most upland areas, the land has remained largely untouched compared to the valleys and dales which have been farmed intensively.
“The North York Moors National Park is especially rich in archaeological finds, so it is perfectly feasible that an important discovery could be unearthed. If it is a find of very particular importance, the pipeline would then have to be re-routed.”
The contentious project will have its main plant on the fringes of the national park near Thornton-le-Dale, which lays claim to being one of Yorkshire’s most picturesque villages. The actual well-head will be within the confines of the park at Ebberston.
Moorland Energy’s chief executive, Lawrie Erasmus, claimed he does not expect a major archaeological site to be discovered, but stressed work will be halted if any significant finds are unearthed to ensure they are properly identified and catalogued.
He added: “It might be that certain sections of pipelines are re-routed if important findings are found, and we will then work with the statutory authorities to resolve the matter.”
Opponents have repeatedly spoken out over the impact the plant will have on the national park. But the Government gave the go-ahead for the scheme in the summer of last year after a public inquiry was held in 2011. The plant had been initially expected to cost £50m, but it is understood the price has escalated significantly because of delays during the planning process.
Moorland Energy also confirmed the Government has extended its licence to extract gas at Ebberston for two more years. Once planning conditions are met and a development plan is approved by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the licence will be extended for a further 18 years.