HUNDREDS of North-East mining jobs could have moved closer after a firm searching for zinc hailed the project’s potential.

Minco says initial investigations across its Northern Pennine Orefield have yielded significant deposits, which have the potential to deliver millions of tonnes of zinc.

The company has drilled more than 30 test holes across the County Durham and Northumberland border, covering areas between Allenheads, near Stanhope, and Nenthead, in Cumbria, and says numerous sectors harbour deep reserves left behind by lead miners.

The North Pennine field was the UK’s most important lead producer between 1750 and 1850, employing thousands of men across Teesdale, Weardale, South Tynedale and the Derwent valley.

Minco says its project could create up to 500 new jobs, with workers mining some of the largest amounts of zinc in Europe.

In a half-year report covering the period to June 30, the firm said its drilling had found significant amounts of zinc, as well as lead, in a number of areas.

Danesh Varma, chief financial officer and company secretary, said: “We drilled 31 holes from late 2012 until the first quarter of 2015, with 25 sited to explore the Great Limestone horizon and six to test the deeper basal succession.

“The extent of the minerals discovered in the Great Limestone is encouraging.

“Similar minerals within the thicker basal succession would be economically very significant and further exploration of both is planned.”

The company is understood to have spent more than £500,000 on the development, and director Rowan Maule previously told The Northern Echo a mine could be developed within six years.

However, he said no plans were definite as it continued with tests.

He added: “This is an exploratory dig, we are not mining, and there isn't going to be a mine spring up in the next six weeks.

“This process is not like building a Tesco and getting planning permission.

“We have to find out what is there, what the volume is, and whether that is significantly strong enough for us to move on to the next phase.

“But this could be a world-class area, and is an important mining area because of its history.

“If our work proves sufficiently a mine could operate there, it would be very good for the economy and create good and well-paid jobs.”

Minco’s development area was first mined by Romans, with zinc and lead production starting in the mid-17th century and continuing through to the end of the 19th century, before working at reduced levels until 1938.

According to the company, lead was the main metal harvesting profit, with zinc work mainly focused between Coalcleugh, near Hexham, and Nenthead, in Cumbria, which produced more than 19,000 tonnes of zinc from 1942 to 1943.