The main mine shaft would be close to the route of the final stages of the Coast to Coast Walk

The main mine shaft would be close to the route of the final stages of the Coast to Coast Walk

Campaigners expressed disappointment at the decision of national park officers not to recommend plans for a huge potash mine be thrown out.

York Potash wants to extract billions of tonnes of minerals from the ground beneath the North York Moors and transfer it to the banks of the River Tees in a 36.5km (23-mile) tunnel.

It is the biggest planning application ever received by the North York Moors National Park Authority.

The Campaign for National Parks said the fact officers did not recommend refusal means it will be up to authority members to make one of the most crucial decisions affecting national parks in recent times.

The charity said it hopes members will reject the application at its meeting on 30 June and welcomed officers’ conclusions that the conflict with the park’s development plan is such that the economic benefits and extent of the compensation offered through planning obligations do not outweigh the harm and clear conflict.

National park officers said in a report running to more than 200 pages that the proposal does not represent exceptional circumstances, one of the tests of allowing such a development in a national park.

A spokesperson for the Campaign for National Parks said: “The decision on this planning application is an important test of the protection afforded national parks in national planning policy as there are strong planning grounds for turning it down.

“Developments of this scale are only allowed in a national park in exceptional circumstances, and when they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest. Those circumstances do not apply in this case.”

Most local authorities and residents in the area are in favour of the plans because of the perceived economic benefits, but the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Government’s advisory body on the outdoors Natural England, the North Yorkshire Moors Association and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds all objected.

The CPN said: “We are concerned that much of the local support for the proposal is based on over-optimistic information in the applicant’s submissions which failed to identify the full impacts of the scheme.

“Reports commissioned by the national park authority and recently published on their website make it very clear that the proposal will be far more damaging to the national park and to the local tourism economy than the applicant’s own assessment indicated, particularly during the five year construction period.

“For example, there will be far more damage to the special qualities of the national park such as tranquillity and the strong feeling of remoteness – the reasons why many people visit the area. The new assessment makes it clear that the applicant has downplayed the level of negative impact on 13 of the 14 special qualities.”

The Coast to Coast route near the proposed mineshaft. Photo: Mick Garratt CC-BY-SA-2.0

The Coast to Coast route near the proposed mineshaft. Photo: Mick Garratt CC-BY-SA-2.0

The proposed main mine shaft and buildings at Dove’s Nest Farm near Littlebeck would be close to the route of the Coast to Coast Walk, followed by thousands of walkers each year.

The national park officers’ report says: “As the applicant recognises, a key concern is the significant increase in HGV traffic on the B1416 which would directly affect walkers using the Coast to Coast route and cyclists on the Moor to Sea Cycle Route 9.

“The combination of construction traffic, noise and views of the site would seriously harm the existing quiet rural character of the area and the natural beauty of the landscape, reducing the quality of recreational experience for residents and visitors alike and affecting the important final (or first) stage of the Coast to Coast Walk.

“The applicant recognises that Coast to Coast walkers would be affected and its landscape consultant states that one or more of the construction sites would be visible for nearly three-and-a half-hours. This would include open moorland sections of the route (at Danby High Moor and Sleights Moor) and parts of the Esk Valley as well as sections in the vicinity of Dove’s Nest Farm.

“Officers, however, have concluded that the Lady Cross Plantation construction site would be very visible over a stretch of seven miles of the route and the minehead site would be visible for five miles.

“Questions on the Coast to Coast walk were included in the Ipsos MORI visitor survey and, when asked what impact the development would have on how likely or not respondents were to use the walk, 19 per cent said they would be less likely to use it.

“Although this percentages is reduced to 7 per cent when adjusted for likely ‘overclaim’, the result supports officers’ view that the combined effect of the mine and [tunnel] developments within the national park would reduce the appeal of the Coast to Coast Walk.”

The North York Moors National Park Authority’s director of planning Chris France said: “The report sets out the main points for consideration and provides a summary of other reports commissioned by the NYMNPA, the planning framework and application itself to help the members individually apportion weight to the various competing harms and benefits in order reach a decision on the project.

“I do not feel it would be appropriate to comment further on the NYMNPA report before members meet to consider the application on 30 June.”

The authority has 20 members; nine are appointed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, including four who represent parishes in the national park, and 11 are appointed by the district, borough and county councils that fall within the North York Moors.

The full report on the proposals can be downloaded from the authority’s website.

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