Dalradian hopeful public inquiry could pave way for Tyrone gold mine in two years
The potential developer of a gold mine in Co Tyrone has said he hopes a public inquiry will be called into the controversial plans before the end of this year.
Canadian firm Dalradian Resources submitted its application for the underground mine in the Sperrins in November.
While the plans have been met with opposition from some residents, the company says its proposal fits in with the area's topography and has a "low-profile" design.
The company says it has spent over CAN $300m on the project at Greencastle the last eight years, with $20m to be spent on engineering this year.
It has already been deemed by the Department for Infrastructure to be of sufficient strategic importance to require examination in a public inquiry.
Gold was discovered in the area in the 1980s but the full economic potential of the site has not been explored until now.
Dalradian chief executive Patrick FN Anderson, whose parents were from Belfast, said he was hopeful a public inquiry should be called this year and heard next year.
He told an Ireland-focused event at the Prospecters and Developers of Canada annual conference in Toronto this week: "Even though there's no sitting government, the priority of all the political parties is to bring jobs."
He said there had been 70 visits from government officials to the site, and 40 sit-down visits with planners "to ensure everything is right and proper and falls within the law".
And following the submission of the application, he said it would be dealing with questions from stakeholders ahead of a public inquiry.
The company said it is already giving work to 100 people on the site, with 50 direct employees and 50 contractors. If operational, the site would employ up to 400 people, with $200m to be invested in the building of the mine, and a £1bn spend over the 25-year lifetime of the mine.
The company has said it hopes to reverse opposition to the mine in the area.
Chief operating officer Eric Tremblay insisted it could bring long-term tourism benefits if a tourist centre is set up after its planned 25-year span. "We want to become a mining tourist attraction that we can open and that money can stay in the community," he said.
"There's a minority of people who have different opinions and people don't want infrastructure, but sometimes there are site visits and people say, this is not what I thought it was."