Hopes raised for new Cornish tin mine to open within five years
Cornwall's historic tin mining tradition could be restored within five years if ongoing tests prove deposits worth up to a billion dollars are commercially viable.
Exploration company Treliver Minerals is currently test drilling at Treliver Farm, near St Columb Major, but has identified rich areas of tin across Mid Cornwall.
Depending on the results, a mine could be opened in mid-2017, creating hundreds of new jobs and pumping millions of pounds into the local economy.
"Tin is currently trading at $24,700 per metric ton – circa £16,000 per metric ton," Mark Thompson, managing director of Treliver Minerals said.
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"We have an internal exploration target of five million to ten million tons of ore grading between 0.3 per cent and 0.4 per cent. This gives 15,000 to 40,000 tons of contained tin worth up to $1 billion."
South Crofty Mine in Pool, near Camborne, was Europe's last when it shut in 1998 after the price of tin hit an all-time low.
But attention has turned back to Cornwall with the price of tin, driven by demand largely from the electronics industry, now five times its $5,000-ton price in 1998 and with other mines due for closure.
In addition to long-standing plans to reopen South Crofty, surveys are due to start off the North Cornwall coast to assess whether tin deposits washed out to sea from previous mining activities can be extracted.
Treliver Minerals is following up on initial explorations carried out by Billiton Exploration UK Ltd in the 1980s which included the taking of more than 10,000 soil samples.
Initial results from the test drilling could be known in 6-8 weeks. If positive, Mr Thompson believes a mine could open at Treliver Farm in a few years.
He added: "Best case scenario would be 18 months to drill it out, one year to prepare mine plans, environmental studies and feasibility studies, one year to permit and one year to build it – so mid-2017."
If the mine were to open, Mr Thompson said, there could be as many as 600 jobs created as a result.
"It is too early to say how many jobs – my best guess would be circa 200," he added. "On top there is a mining multiplier of other jobs created from suppliers and services, generally estimated to be two or three times as many as the direct employment."
Concerns have been aired by local residents about the prospect of a new mine opening in the area.
But Mr Thompson said: "Our policy is to be open with all our local stakeholders and anyone who might be positively or negatively affected by any future development.
"It is, of course, far too early to say whether this will be a mine or not, whether it will be open pit or underground and how big any surface footprint will be.
"My guess though is it is at best a one-in-three chance of being a mine and if so would be less than 1% of the footprint of the china clay pits."
Councillor Pat Harvey, chairman of Cornwall Council and a ward member for St Columb Major, said it had been brought to her attention recently. She said: "There is a rig on site and it could be as long as 18 months before the results of tests to realise if this area is worth mining have been completed and analysed.
"This could bring jobs to the area and much regeneration, but it will depend on the results of the tests. There are also a number of issues which will need to go through the planning process in the future."
While drilling continues in Mid Cornwall, a survey of tin reserves on the seabed between St Ives and Perranporth is expected to begin this weekend. Marine Minerals Ltd (MML) believes millions of pounds' worth of tin is lying within sand, having being washed out to sea during historic mining activities.
Results from the two-week survey, which is focused on an area some 200 metres out to sea, will help establish whether the project is profitable. While MML wants to filter, rather than dredge, for the tin, fears have been raised about potential damage to the environment as well as to the tourism industry.
John Sewell, MML's commercial manager, the "challenge" was whether the tin could be removed "in a way that is environmentally and socially, as well as commercially, viable".
He added: "We obviously believe that the answer is yes, which is why we are pursuing the project."