Sirius Minerals PLC Gains First Planning Approval: Countdown Begins

Sirius Minerals (LSE: SXX) has received the first of several planning approvals required for its York Potash project to be given the green light.

Admittedly, yesterday’s decision was only for a supporting application — in this case, Scarborough Borough Council approved the provision of accommodation for construction workers and the extension of the Whitby park and ride facility, which will be needed for York Potash staff when the construction of the mine begins.

However, Sirius was at pains to point out that this approval has no bearing on the approval of the applications for the main project infrastructure, the first of which is due next week.

Big news next week

On Thursday 23 April, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council (RCBC) is due to make a final decision on planning approval for the mine itself and the mineral transport system, the giant underground conveyor which will be used to transport materials from the rural mine site to the port.

RCBC’s planning team has already recommended that the decision be approved, but a final decision won’t be made until the council’s regulatory committee meets next week.

Tough one still to come

What’s more, even if RCBC approve the application, two more approvals are needed. Although much of the mineral transport system is located in the RCBC area, the mine itself is located in the North York Moors National Park.

The Park Authority has its own planning department — which is known to be very thorough — and needs to give its approval for the mine and transport system. This decision is expected by the end of May.

Finally, RCBC needs to approve Sirius’s separate application for the materials handling facility near the port — essentially a large industrial site. However, given that the proposed handling facility is located alongside a main road close to a major industrial area near Middlesbrough, I can’t see this being a big issue.

Market reaction

Sirius shares were flat after today’s news, but they have already risen by 95% during the last month.

As I discussed recently, I believe Sirius will run out of money before the end of this year, without new funds.

The planning decisions expected over the next six weeks could be make-or-break for the firm — raising further funds without planning approval would be difficult, and likely to destroy existing shareholder value.

Sirius remains a high-stakes punt: even if planning approval is given, Sirius still has to find funding for the mine.

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Roland Head has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.