MAC: Mines and Communities

Sirius gets go-ahead to build UK’s largest potash mine despite growing opposition

Published by MAC on 2015-07-02
Source: Independent,

North York Moors: 'Test case' national park mining project gets go-ahead

Members voted 8 to 7 in favour of the development, despite opposition from 29 environmental groups

Tom Bawden, Environment Editor

The Independent

30 June 2015

One of the world’s biggest potash mines is to be dug in the picturesque North York Moors National Park after the park’s planning committee placed commercial consideration over environmental concerns and gave the £1.7bn project the green light.

The members voted 8 to 7 in favour of the development following a day’s discussions about the controversial proposal, despite opposition from 29 environmental groups who described it as a “huge threat” to the moors.

The mineral mine, near Whitby, would be one of the biggest developments in a UK national park for decades and could pave the way for further large-scale projects in protected areas.

Under the proposals, the UK mining company Sirius Minerals wants to dig a mile-deep shaft on the fringes of the park to tap a huge seam of potash, a mineral used as a fertiliser. It hopes the mine could last for 100 years or more.

The company says the project would be unobtrusive, directly creating at least 1,000 local jobs and another 1,000 jobs indirectly in North-east England. It says hundreds more people would be employed during the five-year construction phase. Business leaders have called it the biggest private investment project in the north of England “by a billion miles”.

Debating the proposal at Sneaton Castle, Whitby, before the vote, the planning committee of the park authority appeared to be broadly in favour of the development.

“We have the opportunity to provide a secure economic future for many people in this area and beyond and to attract investment we have so desperately needed for so long,” said member David Walker.

He added: “The opportunity this creates, both for Britain and North Yorkshire, is exceptional. What clinches it for me is that most of the impacts are short-term, whereas most of the benefits are long-term.”

But the proposals have come up against widespread opposition from campaign groups, who argue that it will destroy the character of the area along with the tourist trade, which provides the region’s biggest source of income.

The seaside town of Whitby was the scene of Tuesday’s debate and only 2.5 miles from the proposed site of the new mine The seaside town of Whitby was the scene of Tuesday’s debate and only 2.5 miles from the proposed site of the new mine (PA)

A consortium of 29 campaigning organisations – including the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the National Trust – urged councillors and other panel members to reject the proposals, calling the mine a “huge threat” to the North York Moors and a “critical test” of the national parks ideal.

In a letter to the committee, the 29 organisations in the consortium said they were concerned about the implications for all national parks if the mine is allowed.

“We do not consider that [Sirius Minerals subsidiary] York Potash Ltd has provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate the national need,” it said. “Similarly, there is insufficient evidence that alternative sites outside the national park have been adequately considered.”

In response to the approval of the scheme, the Campaign for National Parks called for a public inquiry and said it may legally challenge the decision. “We have long maintained that this project is completely incompatible with national park purposes and that the promised economic benefits could never justify the huge damage that it would do to the area’s landscape and wildlife, and to the local tourism economy,” it said in a statement.

The scheme was backed by Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby Robert Goodwill, Labour MP for Redcar Anna Turley and Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton.

Sirius wants to build on the site, near the village of Sneaton, to access 1.3 billion tonnes of polyhalite discovered below the Yorkshire coastline.

Geologists believe this is the world’s biggest and best-quality supply of the mineral. The proposed site is around 2.5 miles south of Whitby.

Sirius gets green light to build UK’s largest potash mine

Cecilia Jamasmie

1 July 2015

The North York Moors National Park has approved Sirius Minerals proposed $3.15 billion potash mine within the conservation area’s boundaries.

A special planning committee of the park voted 8-7 in favour of the project, expected to generate at least 1,000 permanent jobs and inject US$1.6 billion a year to the British economy.

While the company has yet to secure financing for the development, Andy Wilson, chief executive of the authority, said the mine was a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

"The economic impact of the mine outweighed the environmental harm," Wilson noted.

"We're obviously very happy but the hard work only begins now," said Sirius Minerals chief executive Chris Fraser according to AFP, adding that the mine would support government efforts to strengthen the economy of northern England, which lags behind the south.

The York Potash project was opposed by a consortium of 29 campaign groups, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which said that the mine was a "huge damage" to the moors and undermined the protection of all national parks.

Legal challenge on the horizon

“[We will consider] a legal challenge of the decision, given that this is such an important test case of the protection for National Parks in national planning policy,” Ruth Bradshaw, policy and campaigns manager at the Campaign for National Parks said in a statement. “We have six weeks to apply for a judicial review so we now need to decide whether there are grounds for such a challenge.”

To develop the mine, Sirius will have to dig underground shafts within the 1,430-square-kilometre (554-square-mile) park before boring out the mineral from deposits under the land and the North Sea. The polyhalite would be crushed and processed down the mine before being fed to an underground pipe and taken as slurry to a port 28 miles away.

Construction of the mine will take about five years.

Current potash market conditions are not optimal for new players. The already oversupplied sector has seen several other major developments, the biggest being BHP Billiton’s (ASX:BHP) Jansen mine with its 5.3bn tonnes of measured resources and 1.3bn tonnes of inferred potash, going back to the drawing board.

The fertilizer ingredient is currently trading about $307 a tonne. Producers such as BHP need prices as close as $500 per tonne as possible, so they can cover construction costs.

Shares in Sirius closed down 2.6% Tuesday to 14.61p.

Opposition to Sirius Minerals $3bn potash project in national park builds up

Cecilia Jamasmie

24 June 2015

Dozens of environment and amenity organizations sent Wednesday a letter to Brittan’s North York Moors National Park Authority urging it to reject an application to build the world’s largest potash mine underneath.

Sirius Minerals proposed $3.15 billion project, in the works since 2011, includes the construction of a 37-km (23 miles) tunnel to a processing plant through one of the U.K.’s most protected landscapes.

With promises of thousands of jobs and billions in exports, Sirius has managed to attract local support, but the powers that be don’t seem so easy to persuade.

Last week, the Park Authority issued a 229-page report that said the mine’s economic benefits do not outweigh the harm it may cause. However, the body did not make any recommendation about the proposed mine.

Sirius has “not fully addressed or met the policy requirements of the major development test and has not demonstrated that the proposal represents exceptional circumstances or is in the public interest,” the report said.

Now 29 environment and non-profit groups, led by the Campaign for National Parks, are claiming the proposed mine is not only “a huge threat” to the North York Moors, but that the authorities’ decision is “a critical test of the protection provided to National Parks under national planning policy.”

They add the development would ruin the park’s tranquillity and could deter the tourists that are a source of income and jobs. The company also faces objections from Cleveland Potash, a rival that has mined potash at the nearby Boulby Mine for decades, and believes its interests could be jeopardized.

However, chief executive Chris Fraser has sustained the mine stands "up to scrutiny," adding he was determined to pursue the plan.

Sirius is expected to hear by June 30 whether it will be allowed to mine polyhalite, a type of potash fertilizer, from the deposit located under the national park.


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