THE next phase of the development of the £2.2 billion York Potash project is primed to get underway with the agreement of a tunnelling contract.

Sirius Minerals says Strabag will carry out tunnelling for the first stage of an underground mineral transport operation.

Bosses say Strabag will build the system between an intermediate mine shaft site at Lockwood Beck, near Guisborough, east Cleveland, and a storage and distribution base at Wilton, Redcar.

They added talks are ongoing over further tunnelling work, which will link the mineral apparatus to Sirius’ Woodsmith Mine, which is being built on the outskirts of Whitby.

The mine, which will extract the fertiliser polyhalite, reputed for its potassium, magnesium, sulphur and calcium content that encourages strong crop growth, is expected to create more than 1,000 direct jobs and support a similar number in the supply chain when production begins in 2021.

Chris Fraser, managing director and chief executive, said the update represents another tick in the box for Sirius’ endeavour becoming a reality.

He said: “It is an exciting time for the company as we continue to construct our game-changing mine.

“The infrastructure we’re building will allow us to create thousands of jobs, deliver economic benefits for the local and national economies, deliver value for shareholders and play our part in improving fertiliser practices around the world.

“We are now looking forward to adding progress on our transport system to the impressive progress we’ve made on early works and mine shafts.”

Mr Fraser, who said the project “remains on time and on budget,” added it continues to gain traction with potential customers, with 14 new trials having started in 2018 already.

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