The government’s rejection of plans for a £1.2billion cross-channel power cable project was “legally flawed” and “inexplicable”, the developer argued in the High Court.
Planning permission for Aquind’s new subsea power link between Portsmouth on the south coast and Normandy in France was refused in January by then Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
Portsmouth MPs and City Council have objected to the proposed infrastructure project, while a former Energy Secretary apologized from the decision-making process on funding by one of Aquind’s owners.
Aquind Limited, part-owned by Russian-born former oil tycoon Victor Fedotov, has donated at least £430,000 to the Tory party and MPs, while Alexander Temerko, a British national born in the former Soviet Union and serving as a director of the company, has donated more than £730,000.
Mr Kwarteng is said to have previously been dissatisfied that “reasonable alternatives to the proposed route” had been given sufficient consideration in the proposals, raising particular concerns about “the proposed landing at an urban site”.
But in a legal challenge aimed at overturning the minister’s decision, Aquind argued he was “misled” by officials, “disregarded” certain evidence and used an unfair decision-making process.
The company’s claim is contradicted by the government, which argued during a two-day hearing in London that the business secretary – a role now filled by Grant Shapps – gave “reasonable, reasonable and understandable reasons” for the decision.
Ms Justice Lieven said she would give her verdict in the case at a later date after the trial was completed on Wednesday.
Simon Bird KC, for Aquind, told the court in written submissions that the proposed interconnector would be able to transmit up to 16,000,000 MWh of electricity per year, which is around 5% and 3% respectively of the UK’s total consumption or France.
It had obtained approval for “sea and land cabling and associated infrastructure” with the proposed UK on-land route running from Eastney on Portsea Island, Portsmouth, to a converter station at Lovedean in Hampshire near the South Downs National Park should.
Mr Bird claimed the “only reason” for the rejection was the potential suitability of an alternative grid connection point at Mannington substation in Dorset.
But the lawyer said it was inexplicable for the then business secretary to “shut down tools” and withhold consent instead of seeking information about that single potential stumbling block.
The Secretary “failed, in breach of his duty, to take reasonable steps to inform himself of the feasibility of Mannington,” Mr Bird said.
He added that Aquind had cited the “environmental impact and increased costs to the consumer resulting from the need for network reinforcement” as arguments against using Mannington, such as the need for longer undersea cables crossing a major shipping route.
He added it was “undeniably clear” that Mannington and other options west of Lovedean were unsuitable because of such impacts, given that the 2015 denial of approval for development of the Navitus Bay offshore wind farm project, which would involve Mannington, would mean nothing to do with these “free-standing” plants. To ponder.
Mr Bird said the minister had made no determination as to whether the project “benefited from the presumption in favor of permitting” and had not weighed “adverse effects” against “the urgent and compelling national need” for the interconnector.
But James Strachan KC, representing the Government, said in written arguments that given the wind farm’s rejection, the Business Secretary “reasonably stated that he was not satisfied” that it had been shown that Mannington “was not an alternative avoiding it.” would cause significant damage from the planned development”.
The Minister concluded that the proposed project’s “adverse effects” were “sufficient to warrant consideration of alternatives,” added Mr Strachan.
Potential impacts included “damage to cultural heritage, impact on tourism receptors, sports grounds, the Victorious Festival, private losses associated with the forced purchase and the delay in North Portsea Island’s coastal defense program,” the court was told.
Mr Strachan said there was “no error of law” and argued that Aquind had failed to provide an analysis of whether the wind farm’s refusal “altered Mannington’s suitability”.
Conservative MP for Portsmouth North Penny Mordaunt, currently leader of the House of Commons, and Labor MP Stephen Morgan, representing Portsmouth South, previously welcomed the denial of development approval.
Berwick-upon-Tweed MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, now a minister in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, withdrew from the decision-making process on funds received from the Northumberland Conservatives in July.