Potash firm faces challenge over pit location

One of the rigs carrying out the exploratory drilling work on the North York Moors National Park for the potash mine.
One of the rigs carrying out the exploratory drilling work on the North York Moors National Park for the potash mine.
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A MULTI-NATIONAL company has set out its vision for a £1.7bn potash mine to national park chiefs who warned major questions still remain unanswered over the landmark scheme.

The public were yesterday given the first opportunity to witness the debate between Sirius Minerals and the North York Moors National Park Authority over the proposed mining operation to exploit one of the world’s most extensive seams of potash.

A meeting at The Raven Hall Hotel in Ravenscar was attended by a 100-strong contingent of members of the public as well as officials from Scarborough Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council and the national park authority.

The park authority’s director of planning, Chris France, told the Yorkshire Post the meeting had been “extremely constructive” and welcomed an “open and frank debate” about the plans.

However, he maintained that questions remain over the exact location and operation of a processing plant on Teesside, where the mineral would be taken via a 27-mile underground pipe from the mine-head proposed for farmland near the village of Sneaton in the national park.

Mr France confirmed the main focus has been on the actual design of the mine and its impact on the national park’s landscape.

However he also stressed the effect on groundwater supplies to the surrounding area as well as the pressures on the existing highways network are also vital issues that need to be addressed.

He said: “We are not against the proposed mine, as we recognise that it would have very significant economic benefits. But we need to make sure that it is built in the right location.

“The company needs to prove to us that the mine-head cannot be located anywhere else other than in the national park, and we will only be able to come to that conclusion once a full planning application has been submitted.”

Conservationists have warned the mine should only be given the go-ahead if strict criteria set out under national planning guidelines are met as grave concerns have been voiced that it would impinge on some of the UK’s most precious landscapes.

But executives from Sirius Minerals maintain revolutionary design techniques will see the majority of the mining operations built below the ground, screened by woodland.

The managing director of Sirius Minerals, Chris Fraser, was joined by senior colleagues to give a presentation to national park officers yesterday and welcomed the “positive and informed discussions”.

Mr Fraser added: “We have ongoing studies as to how the processing plant will operate, and this is about providing the most cost-effective way of creating the mining operation.

“This meeting was an important step along the process, and we will look to engage fully with the national park authority and the public before submitting a full planning application by the end of the year.”

Business leaders and politicians have heralded the blueprints as a huge step towards countering some of the nation’s worst pockets of deprivation and tackling long-term unemployment which has blighted communities in the district around Scarborough and Whitby.

But Mr France has already maintained the go-ahead for exploratory drilling work is no indication that the overall scheme will be approved. He stressed that while the authority is supportive of mineral exploration, national planning policies dictate a very different approach to mineral extraction.

THE scale of public interest in the plans for the potash mine in the North York Moors National Park has been immense

Sirius Minerals has staged exhibitions to outline its proposals, and the North York Moors National Park Authority has announced a second public meeting will be held after yesterday’s event in Ravenscar. The next meeting will be in Helmsley on October 11.

Sirius announced plans for the mine in January last year and undertook exploratory drilling work to pinpoint one of the world’s most extensive seams of potash, a key component in fertiliser. The deposits are seen as a hugely important source of potash to help boost crop yields while satiating global food demand.