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Sirius Minerals’ Chris Fraser confident in York Potash timeline

Sirius Minerals (LON:SXX) chief executive Chris Fraser is confident that a move to reset the planning application process won’t cause a delay to the York Potash project’s anticipated timeline. This confidence comes from conversations with the planning authorities, he says.
Sirius Minerals’ Chris Fraser confident in York Potash timeline

Sirius Minerals' (LON:SXX) chief executive Chris Fraser is confident that a move to reset the planning application process won’t cause a delay to the York Potash project’s anticipated timeline.

This confidence comes from conversations with the planning authorities, he says.

York Potash is, on paper, a potentially world class mine development though its location within the boundaries of the North York Moors national park has meant a lengthy planning application process.

Britain’s planning laws state that applications in designated national park areas should be refused as a rule, except for special cases where projects are in the public interest.

Sirius argues that the US$3bn project will provide a major stimulus for the local economy – the underground mine would be among the top five of its kind in the world.

However, doubts about the market for polyhalite – the mine’s nutrient rich resource – were raised by park authority’s consultant AMEC.

The latest planning application was set back earlier this year, and more information was requested from the company.

Sirius revealed on Wednesday it is considering the possibility of withdrawing the existing application and instead it will submit the documentation as a new application.

“The national park wrote to us and suggested that it would be helpful on a number of fronts for us to submit a new application rather than refreshing the existing one,” Fraser told Proactive Investors.

Effectively consolidating the prior application, a product of several phases of back-and-forth amendments, into a fresh set of current documents makes it easier for all parties as the process moves forward.

On the face of it, this appears to be a largely administrative change though, according to Fraser, there are also certain benefits to submitting the application anew. It is also, from the authority’s point of view, partly a financial issue.

Fraser says the change in approach allows Sirius to focus on the matters of ‘outstanding concern’ to the park authority.

“All the issues are on the table now, there shouldn’t be any new ones.

“This is now about communicating and convincing them of key points; and where they are subjective points, it is about having more interactive discussions.

“The collaborative basis and the openness is definitely there, but, the authority says it just doesn’t have the funding.”

“They are reaching a point where they wouldn’t be able to engage with us because they’ve run out of money. It was a roadblock.”

He explains: “On the cost front, the only way for them to get any cost support from us – because they’ve been given none from the government – is for us to move into a pre-application funding arrangement.

“So we’ve agreed to do this, but on condition that we get roles and responsibilities agreed, a planning performance agreement is in place and we can actually understand how we are all going to behave during that pre-application period.

“This is so that once we’re at the final application stage the process can go as fast as possible.”

Sirius also told investors that it may extend the mine boundaries in the plans, to include additional areas, and this would involve a separate application to the North Yorkshire County Council.

Meanwhile, the company’s plans have, theoretically, had a boost by the planning approval last week of a gas project within the boundaries of the national park.

Fraser says the project got the go-ahead because the economic benefit it would bring, namely the creation of twenty jobs, was considered an exceptional circumstance.

“We would hope, therefore, that once the authorities get comfortable with the polyhalite market, and see that the job creation will come, they will also agree that such an exceptional circumstance does exist for the York Potash project.”

“So, we thought that was quite positive.”

According to the timetable set out by Sirius in September, the full planning submissions to the authorities will be made by July 2014.

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Feasibility will be complete later this year, followed by project financing in early 2016

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