Tom Fox welcomed Chris Fraser, Graham Clarke and Gareth Edmunds to the Town Hall and thanked them for the opportunity to allow members of the public to ask questions.
The presentation started promptly at 9.15 am with Chris Fraser talking through the slide show. Focusing on the benefits of the product Polyhalite and dismissing the ICL report on lack of global markets for Polyhalite; “ We know it is false”; “It ultimately comes down to price and the security of supply”.
Fraser talked of the Crop Studies results recently undertaken by Durham University and future studies to be undertaken by Universities in San Paolo, Brazil and Shang Hai Agricultural University. With a mention of further crop studies being undertaken on cabbages, notably Tom Fox smiled at that one.
Fraser explained the ‘ Law of The Minimum’, spoke of Natural Blends and Natural Synergy with the product being of great value and internationally significant. The product had an organic label and was chloride free, needing less water, having only 4 of the 6 MOP ingredients, a more balanced fertilisation taking away the nitrogen and phosphorous run off, that were most harmful to the environment.
Whilst Fraser ran through the product benefits I couldn’t help but feel he looked slightly bored, remaining seated throughout the presentation and not looking very impressed with the assembly.
Fifteen minutes later Graham Clarke took over the presentation to highlight the subsurface nature of the mineshaft design and subsurface facilities at Doves Nest. Clarke confirmed the pipeline was the most efficient method to transport the mineral to the processing plant at Teesside.
Clarke went on to describe the achievements to date of the mine design, in breaking traditional mining concepts, ie how to build “a mine that won’t be seen”. Which I thought was a bit far-fetched, but I got his confidence in the design, build, concept was pushing him through his nerves. Talking through slides showing the movements of the spoil around the site and the size of the bunds and what they might look like.
Fifteen minutes later Gareth Edmunds took over and talked about the planning case, how the product could not be accessed from anywhere else because it was not economically viable. Testing had been carried out at the Whitby enclave and Cloughton, but the further South you go, the deeper the product became to access.
Edmunds then spoke of the exceptional circumstances to the planning application, moreover, the Major Development Test, saying that national needs were not being met and that the project was one of ‘National Importance’. He did not elaborate other than to say this was the only deposit in the UK, with access being from within the National Park.
Edmunds then went on to quote the Socio-Economics report, highlighting the 6000 jobs over ten years in the construction of the mine and pipeline with £55m being put into the local economy at the first stage of the project rising to £944m at the end stage. (I think he meant phase II, not the end).
Curiously, he went on to state that £55mil would be paid to land owners (about 500) in the first year and then said “the economics behind the project were quite striking”, with over 4000 shareholders in the NE of England.
Edmunds then went on to explain the no project scenario with the loss of 337 jobs, including those that were already in the supply chain. Adding “If we can employ locally then we will.”
Fox was staring full ahead through all of this, as if he had heard it all before, with Jim Dillon seeming the most interested throughout.
With the Sirius boys presentation over it was time for questions, firstly from the Councillors then the public.
Quite surprisingly, and totally apt, Tom Fox interjected with the first question; “after reading in various media outlets that the amount of spoil had been compared to the size of Wembley Stadium….” . That was the big question in that room and I hate to say it but was quite impressed that Tom Fox had picked up on that. Amusingly, Graham Clarke gave estimates on the internal capacity of Wembley Stadium compared with the external measurements, etc, etc, it was obviously something he had taken on board and looked at in great detail. Clarke added that the spoil calculations had now been submitted as worse case for both the sunken facility and sunken mine shaft, with 300,000 cubic meters temporarily and 800,000 cubic meters to form bunds around the site that would reduce noise and visual impact.
Dilys Cluer asked if some of the spoil was to be transported away from the site, adding “was this spoil inert?” Clarke confirmed that only the Potassium and Sodium Chloride amounting to 17/20,000 cubic meters would be taken away from the site “not a huge amount” compared to other mines and went on to explain in further detail.
Geoff asked about “the destroying of jobs in the tourism industry”. Fraser confirmed there was a ‘difference of opinion on this matter’ that was being worked through with the Park Authority.
Sam Cross asked about vehicle movements and transport issues. Again these were being looked at closely and mitigated within the application.
Bill Chatt asked, in his own way, about why the site had to be sited in such a sensitive area? Gareth Edmunds again said “ it was the only site viable from an economic point of view”.
Brian Cox asked of the experiments (crop studies) on the corn had been carried out on cereal crops or maize? Fraser replied.
Penny Marsden asked something or other.
Questions from the Public; MM from Scarborough asked about the time scales. Fraser answered that if approval was given on 29th July then the site works and spoil movements would begin within three months, working towards the shaft sinking in January. With production commencing fourth quarter 2016. (e)
Dalton Peake asked about the processing, whether this would be carried out in Teesside or the Middle East, where it had been said would only cost 10% of the processing costs. Fraser replied that the potential of the new Polyhalite product would mean less processing. Originally, with the old product processing in the Middle East had been considered but not now. Any processing would be done at Teesside in the UK, with the hope of keeping jobs within the UK. This was a UK product and a UK company.
Time for questions ran out because of the Cabinet Meeting. I managed to catch up with Graham Clarke outside of the meeting with my question. Was any of the Polyhalite to be stored on site? No, it was going straight from the mine through the pipeline up to Teesside.
I asked Graham how he felt about working with Sirius Minerals; “It was the best decision I have ever made”. Clearly, he meant every word of that and was very positive about the whole Sirius Project.
I then caught up for a chat with Gareth Edmunds and asked him about the possibility of an uptake agreement or a possible takeover by a larger Potash company. Not clear with that, or unable to respond, I then asked him if ‘Sirius’ were going to ‘stick around’ if they got the approvals needed. And we briefly chatted about past Sirius and future Sirius. I think he told me in a round about fashion that they, the ‘new’ Sirius, intended to stick around.
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to catch up with Chris Fraser, he was talking to others.
To sum up, my overall impression of the meeting was that they felt slightly uncomfortable and were very guarded about their words, perhaps with the possibility of becoming misrepresented.
I did appreciate the fact they were very pleasant , if not quite humble, considering their massive ambitions. My feelings were that this new ‘Sirius’ are still finding their wings locally and are very vulnerable. I guess all this testing and probing is slightly wearing and tiresome.
I did expect a lot more enthusiasm and heavy slick sales stuff, but there was none of it. Was I missing something? I think there was a very poor turnout, especially from ‘members of the public’. This is the most exciting development project on the Yorkshire Coast for a very long time. It will change us. It is challenging. Why don’t or haven’t more people get involved, especially from Scarborough? Frankly I am beginning to wonder if the Sirius boys are having doubts. About us that is, the locals.