Woodsmith Mine is a deep potash and polyhalite mine located near to the hamlet of Sneatonthorpe, Whitby in North Yorkshire, England. The venture was started by York Potash Ltd, which became a subsidiary of Sirius Minerals plc whose primary focus is the development of the polyhalite project. The project will mine the world’s largest deposit of polyhalite – a naturally occurring mineral. Because the project would require mining to be undertaken in the North York Moors National Park, many objections were raised to the mine and the proposed conveyor that would be installed to transport the raw material offsite to a plant on Teesside 23 miles (37 km) away.
The mine is expected to have a life of 100 years.
The initial proposal was forwarded from York Potash to the North York Moors National Park Authority in 2011. This enabled the Authority to allow test drilling at various sites along the coast between Whitby and Scarborough. The company decided to develop a site next to Doves Nest farm near to the hamlet of Sneatonthorpe.
Sirius withdrew its initial planning application in 2013 to re-examine key elements, particularly the project’s environmental impact. Plans were resubmitted in 2014 with notable changes including an underground system of conveyor belts to transport the dry mineral, instead of a slurry pipeline, and other mitigation efforts. Originally, the transport methods for delivering the product from the mine were conveyor, pipeline and by rail on the Esk Valley line.
The decision from members of the North York Moors National Park Authority to resolve to grant planning permission for the mine and mineral transport system, was made at a public meeting on 30 June 2015. When complete, the Project would be among the largest mining projects ever built in the United Kingdom.
Sirius intend to have the mine and associated tunnel operational by 2021, with preferred bidder status on construction being announced in June 2016.
The project requires the company to construct two 1,500 m (4,900 ft) shafts to reach the mineral seam which includes a mineable area of around 25,200 hectares (62,000 acres).
To minimise the amount of visible infrastructure within the North York Moors National Park, a protected area, the polyhalite will then be transported 23 miles (37 km) in an underground tunnel to the company’s processing plant at Teesside. After granulation and drying, the finished product – marketed by Sirius Minerals as POLY4 – will be exported from the nearby harbour facilities. The mine will produce 20 million tonnes a year of polyhalite, potash and POLY4 and is expected to be in production for 100 years.
Many groups and campaigners objected to the project. An open letter signed by 29 different groups including the Caravan Club, the RSPB and the Campaign for National Parks, was sent to the National Park Authority (NPA) whose own internal report stated that the economic benefits of the mine did not outweigh the environmental damage it would cause. Initially, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) lodged an objection to the mine as its use of dynamite blasting had the potential to cause damage to the sensitive equipment at RAF Fylingdales which is only 4 miles (6.4 km) south west of the mine head. This objection was withdrawn when the company agreed to the MoD's conditions and monitoring of the mine's workings.
However, some local people supported the venture. The farmer who works the land that will be adjacent to the minesite even wrote to the NPA in support of the project stating
Please approve the application and stop the deteriorating living standards of the Whitby people. Stop the young moving out and plan to keep families together.
Another local man stated that there was noting in the area other than pot washing or working in the local fish and chip restaurant.
In February 2017, the project was given the name Woodsmith Mine in an unveiling by Andrew Percy MP, the Northern Powerhouse Minister. The name of the mine is a portmanteau of the surnames of Peter Woods and Dr Frederick Smith who were two of the original geologists on the project.
Ground works on the mine and initial building is due to start in April 2017 whilst preparatory work on the access roads (including building new filter lanes on the A171 road) was undertaken in February and March of 2017.