AN international mining company insists it has not abandoned an ambitious project in the North Pennines.

Irish-based Minco began drilling for zinc deposits on land near Nenthead three years ago.

The firm spent £1.7m on exploratory work, and claimed 500 jobs could be made available if it led to a viable mining project.

But a lack of activity on site over the past year has led local people to wonder if the scheme had hit the rocks.

This week, Peter McParland, a director of Minco’s board based in Navan, County Meath, said the company had not turned its back on the plan.

He explained: “We will be returning to the North Pennines, because we have a lot more drilling to do there.

“We stood down operations last year because zinc prices were down, and with that in mind, we had to take our own costs into consideration.

“Things have certainly improved now. Zinc prices are starting to move, and you’re talking about 2,100 euros per tonne currently.”

Minco had been exploring the area of the former Rampgill Mine, which was previously worked for lead.

Mr McParland believes there is zinc below the original mine workings, which could be used to assist the latest project.

He added: “I’m sure they would have found the zinc material there historically.

“There is a sizeable deposit in those hills, but a century or so ago, zinc was not the hot metal that it is today. I believe there is still lead there too, and a lot can be achieved now with modern mining techniques and equipment.”