13 September 2012

Potash

The North York Moors has a wealth of geology, Jurassic fossils, Whitby Jet, St Hilda's serpents (ammonite hildoceras if you prefer), the Ellerbeck series of fossil rich gravel and shale named after the beck across the field from the CJS Office where the first gravels were discovered, a bit further up the hill the remains of a whinstone sill which stretches all the way to Mull.  Down the valley there are the remains of iron workings, out on the moors around Danby beware of hidden bell pits, excavated for coal in the not so distant past, head down the coast to Ravenscar and you'll find the remains of alum works and on the other side of the moors nearer Helmsley there are the big limestone quarries at Spaunton.  Throughout history this rich geology has been exploited in a fairly intense highly industrialised way but in more recent years this industry has been curtailed because of the cost of extraction, because the products are no longer such high value and of course since 1952 it's been a National Park.

However once again industrial extraction looks likely to start again.

Just up the coast from us is Boulby, the largest potash mine, Europe's second deepest mine and a huge undertaking, opened in 1969 and still going strong, it is one of the two largest employers within the Park (the other being the MOD Early Warning station at Fylingdales). Last week Sirius Minerals put in a formal planning application with the National Park for a second potash mine, this time on the other side of us and crucially within the Park boundary. We've had their test shafts and mines scattered across the Whitby district for a while now and the word on the bush telegraph has been that the samples have been of very good quality so we've known that a planning application was coming, all we needed to know was exactly what and where.  When Sirius announced that they were pulling out of their operations elsewhere in the world to focus on the Whitby site it became obvious that it was just about finalised and the application would be going in soon.
The York Potash website provides good explanations and simple graphics outlining what they're intending and where they'll be located along with reasons as to why they've made certain decisions.  If they do as the plans suggest it won't be too bad, or at least as bad as feared, indeed it may be less intrusive than the test rigs.  But this doesn't get round the fact that it's within the boundary of the National Park.  The Hobhouse report which led to the Park's designation says,"within a relatively small compass an amazing wealth and variety of beauty".  Campaigners and locals alike are understandably concerned that the proposals don't degrade this beauty or impact the area.
However, Whitby folk are quite pragmatic and are well aware that it's almost a 'done deal', the withdrawal of Sirius from other projects just highlights this.  The vital phrase is "in the national interest" it's always been a rider to planning and suggests that Whitehall might be able to ride roughshod over local interests should they feel that a plan (whatever it maybe , not just mineral extraction) would be for the greater good nationally even if detrimental to the locality in which it's established.  There are lots of campaigns and plenty of voices shouting that the mine should be stopped at all costs but maybe we should be putting our efforts into ensuring that the impacts are minimal?