The future of a vast mining project in North Yorkshire hangs in the balance today as a key deadline approaches.

Mining giant BHP has urged takeover target Anglo-American to extend its deadline as talks continue between the two rivals.

The companies have been in talks over a deal worth almost £39 billion since Wednesday, May 22 amid efforts to agree on the structure for a potential takeover.

Australia’s BHP faced a deadline to make a firm offer or walk away from takeover talks.

Anglo-American - which is digging the revolutionary Woodsmith polyhalite fertiliser mine near Whitby - has already 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.

BHP said it had put forward a number of “socioeconomic measures” in a bid to ease concerns over its bid and called for more time to discuss this with Anglo American.

BHP’s three takeover approaches all had a requirement for its rival to spin off its South African operations, resulting in heavy criticism from the government in Pretoria.

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Anglo American also opposed this.

In a statement, BHP said: “BHP believes that the proposed measures it has put forward provide substantial risk protection for Anglo American shareholders and supplement the significant value uplift that Anglo American shareholders will receive from the potential combination.

“BHP believes a further extension of the deadline is required to allow for further engagement on its proposal.

“This announcement does not amount to a firm intention to make an offer and there can be no certainty that an offer will be made.”

A mega-merger between the two companies would create the biggest copper miner in the world, with 10% of global output.

Anglo American’s vast reserves of copper are a key driver of the interest in the business, as the mineral is an important building block for low-carbon technologies such as solar farms and electric cars.