‘FOR me, the moment of celebration will be when we are cracking a bottle of champagne on the first shipment.

“The job is not finished yet.”

Chris Fraser is quick to put his company’s progress into perspective.

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He’s satisfied but not fully contented just yet.

As the public face and driving force behind Sirius Minerals’ potash scheme, he’s taken the development from blueprint to the verge of construction.

The process has not been without its exertions, a lengthy planning procedure one factor, so his caution is perhaps understandable.

However, the company is closer than it has ever been to starting work on the York Potash project, which aims to extract the fertiliser polyhalite from underneath a former farm on the outskirts of Whitby.

Contractors, to develop the mine and fashion a separate mineral transport system to a Teesside handling site and adjoining harbour, were chosen weeks ago.

Later this month, shareholders are expected to give their approval to a financing plan bosses say will provide the catalyst for construction to begin in earnest.

The proposals, should they be supported, will see the issuing of new shares to raise up to £400m and convertible bonds to bring in a further £350m.

Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, is already an advocate having previously confirmed, through her Hancock British Holdings enterprise, that she would back Sirius to the tune of £250m.

Under the terms of that deal, Hancock will pay £205m for the rights to five per cent of gross revenue on the first 13 million tonnes of sales every year, and another one per cent for sales above the 13 million figure.

Hancock, a subsidiary of Hancock Prospecting, has increasing agriculture interests, and will also subscribe to ordinary shares in Sirius for another £41m. The development will be the UK’s first potash mine in more than 40 years and the company has hit other landmarks along the way.

Officials say its financing plan stands as the largest-ever UK mining equity issue by an AIM-listed company and largest- ever convertible bond offering by an AIM-listed business.

It is also the second-largest UK mining equity issue on the London Stock Exchange since December 2012.

York Potash could even receive support from China after it was included in a £5bn Government portfolio aimed at attracting fresh cash into British businesses.

For now, however, Mr Fraser is concentrating on the immediate future, saying the funding will allow his company, in his words, to move on from the end of the beginning.

According to its plans, Sirius’ development, once fully operational, is expected to create more than 1,000 direct jobs and support thousands more in the supply chain.

It could produce polyhalite at $30 a tonne and sell it for potentially $200 a tonne and the firm already has a number of agreements with international customers to export its product, which has gained much repute for its potassium, magnesium, sulphur and calcium content that encourages strong crop growth.

Production is expected to get under way in late 2021 and Mr Fraser told The Northern Echo last week construction is earmarked for commencement in early 2017, once minor road improvements, to allow materials onsite, have been carried out.

He calls the project a journey and at no point does he allow himself to get carried away.

When planning officials approved the scheme, Mr Fraser emerged from the meeting with a beaming smile to meet joyous supporters.

The delight was short-lived though; he still had a lot of work to do and was keen to get on with it.

Today, that to-do list remains extensive, but so does the will and desire of a man whose relentless focus on attaining Sirius’ goal has never wavered.

He said: “We have achieved a lot, though we would have liked to achieve it quicker.

“However, we are now at the end of the beginning, we are now in the building phase.

“Construction is the next journey.

“We’ve taken an idea and we go from challenge to challenge to challenge.

“For me, the moment of celebration will be when we are cracking a bottle of champagne on the first shipment.

“The job is not finished yet.

“You get your short time to enjoy it and your slaps on the back, but then you carry on with the journey.

“The funding is the thing to get the construction going.

“It’s pretty significant and important for the region and the market.

“We are getting ready to start mobilising for (construction).

“One of the first things will be the road network, little things we need to do to start bringing the materials onsite for preparation.

“A lot of the work has to be done but a lot of it has already been done.”

Those endeavours to which Mr Fraser refers will soon see the company dig shafts at the mine base and at Lockwood Beck, near Guisborough, east Cleveland, down to a certified tunnel depth.

Once sufficiently underground, boring will begin to join the excavations together and create a route for its mineral transport system, which will take polyhalite to a handling, storage and distribution plant at Wilton, near Redcar.

From there, a harbour on the mouth of the River Tees, which was also given approval this year, will load vessels with deliveries for foreign shores.

As a scheme, its plans are undoubtedly exciting, both commercially and on engineering grounds.

However, it would be remiss to overlook the fact the development hasn’t captured everyone’s imagination.

There were, and remain, dissenters, which have focused on the mine’s impact on North Yorkshire moorland and cast pessimistic glances towards Sirius’ plans actually coming to fruition.

Mr Fraser is clear on the worries presented, admitting temporary structures will be needed during the build and additional trucks will be on the road to support construction.

However, he said the aforementioned highway improvements, allied to others already completed, will ease worries, adding the mine will be shielded from view once operational.

He said: “Part of my job is dealing with scepticism.

“There are very few projects (like this) that can compete with the economics and where we are in terms of the market value of the company.

“People have forgotten about mining, it is what made Great Britain great.

“If it is not grown, it is mined; that is the reality.

“We are mining something that grows food, which is multi- nutritional and offers more crop yield.

“This is a unique opportunity to access the world’s largest and highest grade polyhalite resource.

“We are extremely mindful of the location beneath the North York Moors National Park and take our responsibility for minimising the potential impact on the area very seriously.

“The people in the local area will know it is there, but for those out of the region, to know it was there you would have to stand in the site or have a helicopter to see it.”

Sirius has already spent in excess of £125m on its project, but, looking at the planned site, on the former Doves Nest farm, near Sneaton village, it’s still a little difficult to imagine a working mine on the land.

When The Northern Echo visited the plot, a metal security gate marked its entrance, a sign warning of livestock movement hanging limply from a black plastic tie.

Inside, cows were grazing in a field, while two men, in another plot close to the farmhouse, were examining the land.

Mounds of earth shrouded the base from view, while, in the centre, concrete bases acted as evidence of testing to gauge the depths and quality of polyhalite.

That analysis previously revealed the firm had discovered greater amounts of polyhalite – bosses say there is a probable mineral reserve of 280 million tonnes - and found it was capable of bolstering chilli pepper, tea and oilseed rape yields.

Officials also say York Potash could, in the future, provide an extra revenue lift through road salt extraction for de-icing routes in the winter.

Although a way off just yet, Mr Fraser is keen not to rule out its potential.

But, at present, it is the polyhalite that has customers queuing up, including a US-based firm, which is due to annually receive 1.5 million tonnes for seven years, which could be extended further across two five-year periods.

There are others in the pipeline, too, admits Mr Fraser, who adds Sirius’ work on its funding stream, which includes a second phase to be utilised later in the project’s creation, is allowing the mine to be a somewhat more tangible prospect for potential customers.

He added: “A key thing for us to take forward is offtake agreements to underpin the funding and long-term business case. We have got a lot of dialogue in various places around the world.

“The fact we now have funding to start construction is helping us move dialogue forward.”

For now, however, the focus is on securing the first funding stage approved and getting construction started.

When that happens, Mr Fraser will be another step closer to sipping that glass of champagne.