Yorkshire leads way on a new mining revolution

Chris Fraser, managing director and chief executive of Sirius Minerals
Chris Fraser, managing director and chief executive of Sirius Minerals
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YORKSHIRE is set to spearhead a renaissance in mining to replicate the heyday of the region’s coal mines and place the UK once again at the forefront of the global industry, the company behind plans for a £2bn potash extraction has claimed.

The bid to rejuvenate what was once one of Yorkshire’s most important industrial sectors has been heralded as vital for the nation’s economy, as well as addressing world-wide concerns over the threat of soaring food prices.

The seam in North Yorkshire is one of the world’s most extensive deposits of potash, which is a key component in fertiliser, and it is seen as a hugely important alternative source of the mineral to help boost crop yields while satiating global food demand.

Sirius, the multi-national firm behind the plans for the first mine of its kind in the UK for nearly 40 years, is undertaking an extensive programme of exploratory drilling work to pinpoint the best location for the development.

Speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post, the chief executive of Sirius, Chris Fraser, claimed the scheme will prove a watershed with the arrival of 21st century techniques to place Yorkshire once again at the cutting-edge of the global mining industry.

Mr Fraser said: “What we are doing is innovative and will add a great deal to the skills base for the UK’s mining industry. This development will help re-establish the UK as a world leader in the mining industry to rival the peak of coal mining. We are working hard to establish an industry that could well be here for the next 150 years, and the depth of the skills base will be hugely important not just to Yorkshire’s economy, but the national economy as well.”

It is hoped the potash mine, which is expected to cost as much as £2bn to build, will bring a massive employment boost with up to 5,000 jobs to the Yorkshire coast, which is one of the region’s unemployment blackspots.

But the proposals have split opinion as the potash seam is centred on the North York Moors National Park and concerns have been voiced that a major mining operation would destroy one of the country’s finest landscapes.

The Yorkshire Post revealed on Monday that York Potash, which is a subsidiary of Sirius, had been warned it faces an “up-hill battle” to ensure the multi-million pound scheme becomes a reality. The North York Moors National Park Authority’s director of planning, Chris France, maintained the go-ahead for the exploratory drilling work was no indication the overall scheme will be approved.

He stressed that while the national park authority is supportive of mineral exploration, national planning policies dictate a different approach to mineral extraction.

But Mr Fraser was adamant that state-of-the-art drilling techniques and the actual design of the mine would help minimise the impact on the national park’s landscapes. Europe’s second deepest mine has been extracting potash at Boulby on the north-eastern fringe of the North York Moors for the past 40 years, and Mr Fraser claimed many people remain unaware of the operation – despite it covering a 20-acre site.

“The Boulby mine is nothing like what we are proposing,” he added. “It was built 40 years ago, the design is out-dated as far as we are concerned and the potash is processed on the site.

“We are proposing to carry out a lot of the work underground so this would minimise the effect on the national park. The potash itself would be sent down a pipeline to be processed at either Teesside or Hull, so again this would lessen the impact on the area.

“We do have to show that this development is in the national interest if we are to be successful in overcoming the strict planning tests for both the national park authority and the Government.

“But many people have already told us that they see the huge economic benefits, and we are confident that we will be able to demonstrate the economic benefits for the whole country as well.”

A planning application for the mine is due to be submitted next year to the North York Moors National Park Authority.

• Background report in Saturday’s Yorkshire Post