Potash mine plan approved for park
A plan to build a huge potash mine in one of the UK's national parks has been approved.
A special planning meeting voted by eight votes to seven to allow the York Potash project to build the mine in the North York Moors National Park, just south of Whitby.
The mining firm says the scheme will generate more than 1,000 jobs. But the plan was objected to by a consortium of 29 campaign groups.
There were cheers from scores of supporters of the scheme who gathered for the special planning meeting at Sneaton Castle, in Whitby.
About 300 people packed the hall and an annex for the decision, which came after more than eight hours of discussions and presentations.
Sirius Minerals, the firm behind the York Potash Project, claimed it will be unobtrusive and lead to the creation of more than 1,000 jobs in the north-east of England.
And business leaders called it the biggest private investment project in the north of England "by a billion miles".
But the consortium of campaigning organisations - including the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the National Trust - joined forces to urge the councillors and other panel members meeting today to reject the proposals, saying the mine was a "huge threat" to the North York Moors and also a "critical test" of the national parks ideal.
The scheme has had vocal backing from local MPs Robert Goodwill (Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby), Anna Turley (Labour, Redcar) and Kevin Hollinrake (Conservative, Thirsk and Malton) who wrote an open letter to the committee calling it a "golden opportunity".
It said: "The York Potash project brings with it the chance to secure a once in a lifetime opportunity to improve the lives of thousands of people in our area.
"A positive decision will bring enormous social and economic benefits to the area by creating jobs, improving training and education opportunities for young people, providing community facilities and by generating more wealth in the economy."
The MPs said the project "is the single largest private investment in the North for many years and a project of national significance".
Today, Barry Dodd, the chairman of the the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership said it was the single biggest investment in the north of England "by a billion miles".
But a range of a groups, led by the Campaign for National Parks have opposed the mine.
In its own 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.
They also said the project would damage the local tourism economy and have significant transport effects.
The letter asked the committee members whether there is a proven national need for development; whether this development is the only possible site either inside or outside the National Park and whether the harm inflicted on the park by the development can be mitigated?
The letter said: "The Campaign for National Parks believes the answer to all these questions is no.
"We do not consider that York Potash Ltd has provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate the national need. Similarly, there is insufficient evidence that alternative sites outside the National Park have been adequately considered."
Sirius will now 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 valuable mineral.
The proposed site is around 2.5 miles south of Whitby, on the B1416.
The firm says the mine would generate more than 1,000 direct jobs at full production and thousands of indirect jobs in the support and supply industries.
It also said it would create up to 1,800 jobs during construction.
The York Potash Project would see a 1,500-metre mine sunk beneath the park, which would tunnel outwards and pump the polyhalite underground around 30 miles north to Teesside, where it would be processed.
The firm said it believes its project has "massive levels of public support".
Sirius Minerals chief executive Chris Fraser said after the meeting: "We're obviously very happy but the hard work only begins now.
"We'll go and celebrate but then we'll get on with the real job of building a mine.
"It was closer than I would have liked but all you need is the one and we got there in the end."
Mr Fraser said the project was "a key part of the Northern Powerhouse".
He said: "The reality is that this a big project. It's exceptional by many, many measures and thankfully the community saw it that way."
Mr Fraser said the fears put forward by the 29 groups were not justified.
He said: "They are right to protect the national park, absolutely. That's principle that I do support and I believe in. We believe the benefits far outweigh the impact and we're doing everything we can to mitigate it."
The Campaign for National Parks tonight called again for a public inquiry.
Campaigns manager Ruth Bradshaw said: "We're really disappointed that National Park Authority (NPA) members have approved the construction of the world's largest potash mine in the North York Moors.
"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.
"There was clear evidence of the planning grounds for refusing this project in the report produced by NPA officers but there has also been huge pressure for NPA members to approve a project which has been widely promoted as bringing employment to the area, even though many of the jobs will not go to local people."
Ms Bradshaw said: "The only way to ensure that the full implications of this extensive proposal, with its multiple and complex applications is for there to be a public inquiry covering the whole of the York Potash project and for the final decision to be made by the Secretary of State.
"We called for such a public inquiry months ago as it would ensure that decisions are based on an accurate understanding of the overall costs and benefits of the whole project and would allow expert witnesses to provide evidence on some of the complex issues that need to be considered."
She said the campaign would also consider a legal challenge to the decision "as a last resort" as it was such an important test case.
Ms Bradshaw said the group has six weeks to apply for a judicial review.
Andy Wilson, chief executive of the North York Moors National Park Authority, said this was the largest planning application any English national park has ever considered.
He said: "I appreciate that there will be many disappointed by today's decision but members felt that the long term benefits for the local, regional and national economy were transformational.
"This truly exceptional nature plus the measures proposed by the company to mitigate harm and deliver widespread environmental benefits to the park over a long period of time tipped the balance in favour of approval."
Kevin Hollinrake, the Tory MP for Thirsk & Malton, said: "This is fantastic news, a thousand new job opportunities and associated business opportunities for hundreds of small local businesses.
"A difficult decision but without doubt the right one."