The immediate future of a 1,600-jobs mining project in the North East hangs in the balance today after a major rethink by its owners.

Anglo American - which is digging the revolutionary Woodsmith polyhalite fertiliser mine near Whitby - has announced that it will 'slow' the development of the project to focus on copper and iron elsewhere in the world - but insists it is all happening to secure the long-term future of the site.

The group said spending here would be reduced in 2025 and in 2026.

The Woodsmith project is currently building two deep mine shafts over a mile deep and a 37km-long tunnel to a fertiliser processing area at Wilton on Teesside. The project already employs more than 1,650 people at its sites in Whitby, Teesside and Scarborough.

The Echo understands that Woodsmith remains 'absolutely at the centre' of Anglo American's plans and that the company believes the portfolio announcement makes Woodsmith even more prominent, given the new focus on very high-quality products.


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The challenge they face is is more of a 'timing and funding' one. The company clearly needs to slow down development in the short term to help strengthen its balance sheet and to give time to finalise a feasibility study which could then help them bring in an investor to work alongside the, - but not take away the decision-making power.

Tom McCulley, CEO of Anglo American’s Crop Nutrients business, admitted ' I know that this announcement will create uncertainty', but added:

“Anglo American has again stated today that Woodsmith is central to its growth plans as a Tier 1 resource - entirely aligned with the demand trends of decarbonisation and food security.

“We have been progressing the project on time and on budget but have decided to slow development in the near term. I’m incredibly proud of the progress we have made so far, the positive impact on the local area and the partnerships we have built in our local communities, which we will continue to engage positively with.

“Anglo American continues to recognise Woodsmith’s unique resource and long-term value potential and will complete critical technical studies in 2025 to then enable syndication for value with one or more strategic partners.

The Northern Echo: Tom McCulleyTom McCulley (Image: Anglo American)

“We need to work out the full details of this slow down over the coming weeks as we reduce activity while retaining optionality for the long term.

“A key aspect of this will be to continue adhering to our planning obligations with the North York Moors National Park Authority and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council.

“I know that this announcement will create uncertainty, but we will keep our workforce and community stakeholders updated as we work through the detail of what this means for everyone.”

The Woodsmith project had faced an uncertain future even before today's announcement, as a global £34billion bidding war for Anglo American led to concerns that if it was won by lead bidder BHP the Woodsmith mine faced closure because it already had a rival project in Canada.


Earlier, Sir Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: "I know a number of constituents will be very concerned by the bad news coming out of Anglo American - so am I.

"They have set out their intention to slow down the pace of their Woodsmith Mine development dramatically. This clearly will have significant implications for the dedicated workforce, who are my number one priority here.

"I met the company last week to discuss the potential BHP Billiton takeover bid: the market suggestion has been that if BHP were to buy Anglo out, they would not proceed with the Woodsmith Mine owing to their running

"There was however no hint on my call with Anglo of any intention on their part to change their own plans for Woodsmith and today’s news therefore comes as a very unwelcome surprise.

"I appreciate any such decision is inherently market sensitive and hence can only be released to the stock market first, but this is a major blow.

"I will seek a fresh meeting with Anglo as soon as possible and will update my constituents with all further information I am given."

Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, said: "Anglo American has announced a significant slowdown in the development of their Woodsmith Mine. This decision will undoubtedly have serious implications for the dedicated workforce, who remain my top priority.

"There's no doubt that this development is a major setback and, at this stage, my constituents are my priority.

"I will be working with my colleague, Sir Simon Clarke MP, to seek further information from Anglo American as soon as possible and I will keep my constituents informed with any new updates."

Duncan Wanblad, Chief Executive of Anglo American, said: “We set out our clear strategic priorities earlier this year – operational excellence, portfolio simplification, and growth. Our decision to focus Anglo American’s portfolio in our world-class resource asset base in copper and premium iron ore – while retaining our crop nutrients optionality at Woodsmith – marks a major new phase.

"Of course, we are conscious of the impacts of making such far-reaching changes, particularly on our employees. We see considerable opportunities for our employees, both in delivering the full potential of Anglo American and in the businesses that we will be divesting or demerging, all of which are high quality businesses in their own right. By implementing these portfolio changes ourselves, we will be able to do so in a manner that is respectful of our employees, host communities and countries."