Anger as gas firm launches new fight

Campiagners, including June Jackson (front) say they will continue to fight Halite's plans.
Campiagners, including June Jackson (front) say they will continue to fight Halite's plans.
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Gas storage firm Halite is gearing up for yet another fight after it launched a legal challenge against the Government’s decision to refuse its latest plans.

Halite wanted to store millions of tons of gas in salt caverns under the River Wyre near Fleetwood but on April 9 the Secretary of State for the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) rejected the scheme due to insufficient geological data.

Halite’s application had been recommended for approval by the Planning Inspectorate, but only on the basis that it provided the required geological information.

The rejection sparked widespread celebrations among campaigners who have fought a decade long campaign against gas storage plans from Halite and its predecessor Canatxx. Residents hoped the defeat would see the company abandon its plans.

But with a deadline of just six weeks to decide how to proceed after DECC’s refusal, Halite has now made its decision to mount a challenge.

Halite says that Under section 118 of the Planning Act 2008, the Secretary of State’s decision can be challenged by means of a claim for judicial review in the High Court.

The move has today sparked anger among campaigners.

Margaret Daniels, chairman of Fleetwood Civic Society, which is part of umbrella group Protect Wyre, said: “It is disappointing news. When will this company ever give up and realise the meaning of the word ‘no’?”

Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Council, said: “What part of ‘no’ don’t they understand? The ministers have said ‘no’, Wyre has said ‘no’ and so have the residents, but now they are going for a Judicial Review which brings some more uncertainty to the situation. They’ve had a few goes at it and they should accept the decision.

“We were hoping this time they would accept ‘no’ and go away but they’re not.”

June Jackson, a Stalmine farmer and campaigner, added: “I wasn’t at all surprised because prior to this they had already informed the DECC they were intending putting in a legal challenge.

“We’ve learnt from experience not to think it would be the end because after four appeals you start thinking like that. I think they are trying to wear us out and I must admit I get fed up with it, but I’ve come so far that I don’t want to give up.”

Howard Phillips, of the Thornton Action Group, said: “Although we hoped that would be the end of it, this judicial review move comes as no surprise. It is a rather desperate gamble by Halite.

“Rather than spend time and money collating the geological data they need and putting in another application, they are going for this cheaper, quicker option.

“We are quietly optimistic that they know they cannot put a suitable application together and have had to resort to going down this legal route instead.”

More than 10,000 residents officially objected to the Halite scheme.

Halite: ‘There are grounds for a review’

The company behind plans to store millions on tons of gas underneath the Wyre countryside believes there are “substantial grounds” to challenge the rejection of their plans.

It will appeal on the grounds the decision was “flawed”.

Keith Budinger, chief executive of Halite Energy, said:“Following a review of the Secretary of State’s refusal, and the report submitted by the Planning Inspectorate which recommended approval of Halite’s application, Halite has issued proceedings in the High Court for a judicial review of the Secretary of State’s decision.

“Halite and its legal team believe that there are substantial grounds on which to demonstrate that the decision is flawed but as the matter is now the subject of legal proceedings do not intend to comment further at this stage.”

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Major milestones of a decade-long gas battle

Timeline of the fight over plans to store gas:

• August 2002 - American energy giant Canatxx first reveals plans for gas storage caverns under land it has purchased at The Heads at Stalmine. Worried protestors begin a campaign against the proposals.

• February 2003 - Protestors warn Canatxx’s plans are a “disaster in waiting”.

• April 2004 - Wyre Council planners unanimously reject the Canatxx plans.

• February 2005 - Wyre planners throw out new Canatxx plans ‘in minutes’ after 10,000 objectors write to tell of their concerns.

• October 2005 - A huge public inquiry held at the Marine Hall and North Euston Hotel in Fleetwood begins into the plans.

• October 2007 - It is a resounding ‘no’ as Canatxx’s proposals are thrown out for good by then Secretary of State Hazel Blears, the third time they have been rejected.

• July 2010 - Canatxx reforms as Halite and submits revised proposals for the site.

• June 2012 - Almost 11,000 people sign Protect Wyre’s petition opposing the plans.

• April 2013 - The Planning Inspectorate rejects Halite’s plans.

• May 2013 - Hailite reveals it will launch a judicial review into the decision to reject the plans.

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