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Moors potash mine scheme is unveiled
Plans for a potash mine under the North York Moors could create more than 1,000 jobs, according to the company behind the proposals – but opponents have pledged their determination to fight the scheme to develop in a national park, as business editor Julie Hayes reports.
PUBLIC consultation will begin this month on plans for a potash mine which is expected to create more than 1,000 jobs in North Yorkshire.
The mine is believed to be the biggest in the world, containing 1.35 billion tonnes of high-grade polyhalite, used as fertiliser, and it is expected to create thousands of jobs in the wider supply chain.
The proposed mine access and surface infrastructure will be located in land which is currently a farm with forest area, about two kilometres south of the village of Sneaton, on the B1416 near Whitby.
The York Potash Project proposes to sink a 1,500-metre mine beneath the North York Moors National Park.
A tunnel would be built from the mine so the polyhalite could be pumped underground about 30 miles north to Teesside, where it would be processed.
Initial designs show that the isolated site would occupy less than 4.5 hectares of the 100-hectare site controlled by York Potash.
Parts of the mine would be sunken and covered by agricultural-style buildings and the site would be heavily screened by mature trees and completely concealed.
Material excavated during the mine construction would be used to landscape the site but traditional twin vertical shafts, sunk from the surface, would greatly reduce the amount removed.
The location was chosen after a 12-month review by Sirius Minerals, which owns York Potash Project. It will now begin a six-week local consultation with the public.
Chris Fraser, managing director and chief executive of Sirius Minerals, said: “From the outset, Sirius has said we would develop a state-of-the-art potash mine at York Potash in an unobtrusive manner.
“Our proposed location and initial designs show what would be a relatively simple concept to construct, but with one of the world’s most innovative approaches to low-impact mine design.
“This is a nationally significant project that will bring extensive benefits to North Yorkshire and the wider British economy at a time of great need and for generations to come.
“The effort in our design work demonstrates that we will deliver on our commitment to the local community and we look forward to feedback on these plans through the public consultation process over the coming weeks.”
Public consultation will be held in a variety of locations across the area over a three-week period, beginning on September 13 in Sneaton Village Hall, from noon to 7.30pm, and ending in Scarborough Town Hall on September 28, from noon to 6pm.
Consultation events will also be held in Whitby, Sleights, Hawsker, Fylingdales and Cloughton.
The company has submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Screening and Scoping Request to the North York Moors National Park Authority and a full planning application is expected to be submitted before the end of 2012.
Sirius has also submitted an application to the Marine Management Organisation for a marine licence to cover the extraction of potash beneath the seabed within its offshore project area.
Campaigners vow to carry on fight
Sirius Minerals said the site for the mine had been carefully chosen to access the world-class mineral deposits while also minimising the visual impact.
But campaigners against industrial development in the national park said they would continue to fight against the plans.
The company said the announcement of the location followed a year-long review by York Potash of possible sites that were considered feasible based on technical constraints, as well as operational, ecological, environmental, social and community factors.
“Due to the topography and the fact that the site is already heavily screened by mature trees the developed mine would be completely concealed.
“While the site benefits from relatively close access to Whitby (only 4km away) it is also isolated, with only seven properties located within a one-kilometre radius,” it said.
Shaft head frames and pipeline loading areas will be positioned below ground and covered in agricultural-style buildings.
Tom Chadwick, chairman of the North York Moors Association, said they would continue to fight the development in the national park. “We are not opposed to potash mining under the North York Moors.
“What we are opposed to is inappropriate industrial development within the national park boundary. Even though they have obviously tried to put in some mitigating effects and people are often misled by the pictures, you’re still looking at a huge industrial development in a national park.”
He said they were working with other national bodies, such as the Campaign For National Parks, to fight against the plans.
Mr Chadwick said the system of pumping the polyhalite underground to Teesside had never been tried before and was an industrial experiment, which should not be carried out in a national park.
“There are other sites they could employ outside the national park and that would be fine,” he said.
The North York Moors National Park Authority said it would carefully assess the potential economic benefits and the environmental impacts of the mine before reaching any decision.
An authority spokeswoman said planning permission for major developments in designated areas, such as national parks, should be refused unless there were exceptional circumstances.
She said it was the authority's job to assess the proposals and decide if the mine would be in the public interest, or if it could be located outside the national park.
Chris France, director of planning at the authority, said: “The development of a new mine would be a major and complex undertaking and the impact on the national park environment is much wider than the surface buildings and structures.
“Before members make a decision, the authority will need to look at the development as a whole and consider a wide variety of issues, including transport and energy needs, implications for housing and local services, ways of dealing with spoil from the mine shaft as well as proposals for the pipeline to cross the national park.”
Focus on job opportunities
York Potash project has published a prospectus of the jobs the mine would create for school children, to help plan their careers and develop a “pipeline” of skills.
The document details jobs ranging from skilled craftspeople and technicians to scientists, engineers, business experts and marketers, at levels from degree-level and post-doctorates to school leavers.
A three-year construction plan would enable the mine to open in 2017, the company said, if it was successful in obtaining planning permission.
The prospectus said: “We intend to develop a programme to maximise the employment of local people during construction, and work with our contractors to train people during construction so that, by the time the mine is built, we have a team of skilled local people ready to work in the mine on day one.
“Many of the jobs are highly skilled and most are much in demand in the wider marketplace.
“In addition, they are well-paid, with mineworkers (depending on experience) typically earning £25,000 to £40,000, tradespeople £25,000 to £45,000 and those joining with degrees between £25,000 and £60,000.”
The company would provide apprenticeships, graduate opportunities and the York Potash Talent Development Programme for adults with transferable skills, the business said.