A COMPANY behind a £2.2bn potash mine development has chalked up higher losses – but bullish officials say 2018 “will be another year of significant progress.”

Sirius Minerals says it is making good headway in its quest to deliver its “transformational” Woodsmith Mine.

The development, based on the outskirts of Whitby, is expected to create more than 1,000 direct jobs and support a similar number in the supply chain when production begins in 2021.

Boss Chris Fraser said work to build the mine, which will extract the fertiliser polyhalite, reputed for its potassium, magnesium, sulphur and calcium content that encourages strong crop growth, is on schedule, despite annual operating losses rising from £16.9m to £24m in 2017.

Total losses stood at £78.9m, compared to £23m in the previous year.

However, Mr Fraser, managing director and chief executive, said the increases reflected higher activity following completion of a financing platform to stimulate building work, with further one-off costs skewing the picture.

He also pointed to the anticipated completion of a second cash boost, which he said will help the project move further forward.

He said: “2017 was a milestone year and one of meaningful progress on the ground and in the global fertiliser markets.

“2018 will be another year of significant progress on all fronts, with that progress ultimately culminating in the successful completion of the stage two financing.

“There is a lot more work to do, but I am confident our team has the necessary expertise to deliver.”

Staying with its costs, Mr Fraser said once operational, the mine will operate as one of the world’s “most cost-competitive multi-nutrient fertiliser producers,” providing much scope to turn losses into profit.

He also pointed to the company’s testing work, with 260 trials at various stages across 32 crops in 17 countries, and a stock of supply agreements that run into millions annually, which Mr Fraser said was proof of the market recognising the potential of its polyhalite.

He added: “The trials demonstrate our polyhalite delivers greater nutrient uptake and increases both yield and quality.

“The scale, thickness and quality of the deposit means highly-efficient, bulk mining methods can be employed to maximise output over hundreds of years.”

The firm’s supply deals include a previously-announced agreement with Wilmar International, which will see polyhalite shipped to customers in South-East Asia.

Sirius plans to move the polyhalite from Yorkshire to Wilton, near Redcar, on an underground transport system, with bosses earlier this year confirming they hope to begin work later in 2018.

The business has started clearing land at Wilton for a storage and handling plant, which will process polyhalite before it is shipped to customers from an adjoining harbour.