Test drilling which could result in a mining project capable of creating up to 500 jobs is being carried out in one of the North’s most stunning landscapes.
Exploration and development company Minco has been allowed to do the drilling after zinc deposits worth millions of pounds were identified in the North Pennines.
This year the North Pennines is celebrating 25 years as a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Canadian-based Minco’s exploration work has targeted the border of Northumberland, County Durham and Cumbria, and is concentrated on an area between Allenheads and Nenthead.
Test drilling has already been carried out on the Cumbrian moors by contractors working for Minco Mining Ltd, a UK subsidiary of Minco plc, and the company says initial results have been “very promising”.
The project is still in the very early stages, but Minco says if a major zinc mine is eventually given the green light, it could produce about a million tonnes a year and employ between 200 and 500 people.
The North Pennines area has been mined since Roman times, mainly for lead, and the company has already invested more than ï¿½500,000 in the exploration operation.
Yesterday Northumberland County Council said planning officials have received notification from Minco of its interest in test drilling in two locations near the village of Allenheads.
A spokesman said: “It has not got as far as a planning application at this stage and they will work with our planning officers on what they hope to do.”
Last night Chris Woodley-Stewart, director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, said: “We are aware of the current test drilling in relation to potential zinc mining in the Nenthead and Coalcleugh area.
“At this stage it is simply a temporary presence on the moors which will determine whether or not the geological conditions are right for zinc mining here. We wouldn’t want to second-guess the nature and scale of any development that might perhaps result from it.”
John Riddle, chairman of the Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “Historically the North Pennines has been a mining area and there are clearly job opportunities here. However, the AONB and landscape issues would have to be looked at very closely.”
Minco says its initial exploration programme will last for 12 months, and so far five 500-metre deep boreholes have been sunk.
Executive director Rowan Maule said the area could hold some of the largest zinc deposits in Europe.
He said: “We believe that this could be a world-class deposit. There is still a lot of work to do, which would involve a lot more drilling over several years, but the potential here is massive.
“There could easily be, in five or six years from now, a major mine developed, should we be able to go through all the planning processes.”