Sunset in North York Moors

Campaign against the potash mine in the North York Moors

We have been campaigning since 2013 against plans to build the world’s largest potash mine in the North York Moors National Park.

Despite all our efforts the project was given formal planning approval in October 2015 and we are now focusing on ensuring that this type of major development cannot be approved in National Parks in the future.

What is happening?

York Potash originally submitted a planning application to the National Park Authority (NPA) in February 2013. This application was withdrawn in early 2014 and a second revised application was submitted in September 2014. The chosen site for the mine head is well inside the National Park in a pleasant woodland area close to the popular long-distance Coast to Coast trail which in 2004 was considered the second best walk in the world by a body of experts.

The new application covers both the mine head and the mineral transport system (MTS). The MTS is a tunnel requiring three access shafts, one of which is in the National Park and another just outside it so the potential impact on the National Park is even greater than under the previous application. As a ‘straddling’ application it was submitted to both the North York Moors NPA and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, the other planning authority responsible for the area through which the tunnel passes.

There are some significant changes since the original application, including a longer construction period (now five years rather than three) and a focus on selling the product overseas rather than in the UK.

At a Special Planning Meeting on 30 June 2015, members of the NPA voted in favour of approving the planning application for the mine head and MTS, subject to agreement of a number of conditions with the applicant. You can read more about our reaction to that decision here.

On 19 October 2015, the North York Moors NPA issued the formal planning approval and completed Section 106 legal agreement for the mine head and mineral transport system.

What have we been doing?

We have been working with local campaigners since 2013 to highlight the damage that this project would do and to ensure that National Park purposes (the laws that safeguard National Parks) are taken into account in planning decisions. As well as submitting detailed letters of objection to both the planning applications, we co-ordinated an open letter to NPA members urging them to refuse the application and spoke against the application at the Special Planning Meeting. We were able to generate a significant amount of media coverage for our concerns, particularly in the local press and on local radio but also including national coverage at the time of the Planning Meeting and appearances on BBC Breakfast TV and Countryfile.

In our letter of objection to the 2013 application we argued that the NPA did not have sufficient information on the environmental impacts to make a lawful decision. York Potash subsequently withdrew the application to allow them more time to consider the environmental implications.

In 2015, we submitted a detailed letter of objection to the new application to both the North York Moors NPA and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council. We also called for the whole of the project to be called in for determination by the Secretary of State following a single public inquiry so that the full impact of all parts of the project can be considered together.

When the NPA published their officers’ report on the planning application we welcomed the comments in the report which make it clear that the proposal conflicts with planning policies and that exceptional circumstances do not apply. However, the report included an open recommendation, meaning that it did not provide members with a clear steer as to how they should vote at the planning meeting. So we also made it clear how disappointed we were that officers had not recommended refusal.

The week before the Special Planning Meeting we sent an open letter to the NPA members urging them to reject the proposals. The letter was supported by a total of 29 environment and amenity organisations and emphasised that the proposal is not only a huge threat to the North York Moors but that the decision is a critical test of the protection provided to National Parks under national planning policy.

We were one of a number of objectors to the application who spoke at the Planning Meeting and we used this opportunity to remind members of their responsibilities as members of a National Park Authority and urge them to refuse the application.

In mid-July the Secretary of State decided not to call in the York Potash Project planning applications so there will not be a public inquiry. We issued a short statement expressing our deep disappointment at this decision.

The only remaining option for us was to seek a judicial review of the planning decision. We took legal advice on this and were advised that we did not have strong grounds as the NPA had followed the correct process. So in November 2015 we confirmed that we would not be pursuing a legal challenge and would instead focus on securing improvements to the major development test.

What are some of our key concerns?

Not only is this project a significant threat to the North York Moors but it also has much wider significance as the decisions made on it are an important test of the protection afforded National Parks in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published in 2012.

We objected to the planning application on the grounds that it is completely inappropriate to have a development of this type in a National Park. The application does not pass the major development test (set out in the NPPF) which only allows developments of this scale in a National Park in exceptional circumstances and when they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest. York Potash failed to demonstrate a national need for their product and did not provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate why alternative sites outside the National Park were not suitable or to justify their claims for exceptional circumstances. Nor did they demonstrate that they could satisfactorily alleviate the environmental damage to the National Park.

We are very concerned about the cumulative impacts and damage to the local tourism economy of such a major development in a sensitive landscape, particularly during the lengthy construction period. This will involve significant increases in HGV movements on local roads and visually intrusive temporary structures, including cranes 76m high (nearly four times the height of the Angel of the North).

We are also concerned about the way in which individual parts of this project were considered in isolation from each other. In addition to the mine head and mineral transport system, the project includes a processing plant on Teeside, harbour facilities, offshore developments and a range of related developments such as temporary accommodation for construction workers and a Park and Ride facility for use when the site is in operation. We argued that a public inquiry is the only way to consider the full impact of the project.