UK politicians urge Anglo to rethink fertilizer project halt

The Woodsmith project. (Image: Sirius Metals.)

UK politicians are calling on Anglo American to rethink halting its work at the Woodsmith fertilizer project in northern England, part of an asset overhaul Anglo announced after rejecting takeover proposals from global miner BHP Group.

Anglo’s unit Crop Nutrients was holding a town hall meeting on Thursday to advise on the slowdown of the project in North Yorkshire, two sources said. Woodsmith currently gives work to around 2,000 people, including contractors, according to the mining company’s website.

“We urge (Anglo) to pause and properly consider the catastrophic impact that losing so many high quality jobs could have on our area,” said Roberto Weeden-Sanz, the conservative party’s candidate for Scarborough and Whitby.

“Local people have supported this fantastic project for many years and it should not be used as a sacrificial lamb to fend off a takeover from a bigger company,” he added.

Anglo says on its website that since construction started in 2017, Woodsmith has generated £1.5 billion ($1.91 billion) to the economy of Yorkshire and the North-East of England.

“We are slowing down the development of the project while we strengthen our balance sheet, albeit still investing,” Anglo said in an emailed comment. “Once the conditions are right, we will ramp up again and fulfil Woodsmith’s potential as a multi-generational mine.”

“Unfortunately we do expect jobs to be affected and we will be working through that and consulting our employees to provide as much clarity as quickly as we can,” it added, without giving details on numbers.

Anglo has been looking for partners for Woodsmith for around six months, chief executive Duncan Wanblad told Reuters on May 16, reiterating the business will be one of three pillars of the revamped miner, even as it slowed its development, pushing back first production from 2027.

The decision to stall the project is part of a radical plan announced earlier this month to divest or sell assets following a 94% plunge in annual profit.

“Anglo should not be rushing into decisions that put the livelihoods of hard working and highly skilled Teessiders at risk,” said Ben Houchen, mayor of the Tees Valley. “We want to hear from Anglo directly and for them to engage with government to make sure every option is considered before drastic measures are taken.”

Woodsmith, on which Anglo announced a $1.7 billion writedown a year ago, has the world’s largest known deposit of polyhalite, a naturally-occurring mineral containing nutrients including potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur, which it is marketing as POLY4.

A feasibility study for the project is only expected to be ready by the beginning of 2025. This would have been followed by a board full notice to proceed in the first half of the year if the wider assets’ restructuring had not got in the way.

Analysts estimated total spending on Woodsmith at around $9 billion. Anglo said it has invested around £3 billion in it so far.

($1 = 0.7865 pounds)

(By Clara Denina; Editing by Susan Fenton)


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