A controversial scheme to build one of the world’s biggest potash mines in a conservation area has been filed with local planners, setting the stage for a battle between its developers and local environmental campaigners.
Sirius Minerals, the UK company behind the $6bn fertiliser project, will unveil plans on Monday to site its pit head in the North York Moors national park south of Whitby, as it started the planning application process – although with substantial changes to its first design.
Chris Fraser, chief executive of Sirius, said it had opted for two traditional vertical shafts rather than long drift tunnels to reduce the impact at the surface and the amount of spoil. The change would still allow the company to meet the budget and timeframe it had already set out, he said, with full figures to be made clear in November.
“It will be low impact. You won’t even see it from the road. The biggest impacts are going to be positive ones,” he told the Financial Times. “The socioeconomic benefit to the local community is going to be huge. The reaction to the project in the local community has been strong because they can see what this can do in terms of employment and funding through the royalties.”
Exploratory drilling suggests the site could contain between 3.3bn and 6bn tonnes of polyhalite, the mineral used to make sulphate of potash, popular for fertilising fruit and vegetables. Sirius said it planned to have production of 1.4m tonnes a year of SOP by 2018, potentially increasing to 4.1m tonnes a year by 2024.
Some 2.5 per cent of annual revenues – representing up to £45m a year – would be paid to 300 farmers under whose land the potash sits. The company has also established the charitable York Potash Foundation, which would receive 0.5 per cent of royalties – £3m annually at phase one production and up to £9m at phase two.
It expects to employ 700 people by the end of its first phase of development, rising to more than 1,170. All surface workings, including the winding gear, would be contained within agricultural-style buildings and the pithead site would occupy 4.5ha, Mr Fraser said.
The company is raising $2.7bn for the development phase. It wants to build an underground pipeline to take the minerals as slurry to a processing plant on Teesside to avoid the use of trucks or trains.
However, 11 local organisations have banded together to oppose the plan, claiming it could destroy the local landscape and deter visitors, and that unproven technology was being used.
With Sirius confirming that some processing could be carried out abroad for cost reasons, they also claimed jobs figures were overstated.
“We regard it as a high risk venture which should not take place in a national park,” said Tom Chadwick, chairman of the North Yorkshire Moors association, a charity. “We are concerned that jobs gained at this proposed mine may also mean jobs lost in the national park where the biggest employment area is in tourism, closely linked to landscape quality.”
Sirius said it would submit its formal planning application to the national park authority before the end of the year. The UK’s only other potash mine, at Boulby, is north of the national park boundary.