New battle over gas storage plans

Ian Mulroy, of Protect Wyre Group
Ian Mulroy, of Protect Wyre Group
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RESIDENTS were today warned they have just weeks to stop plans for a controversial gas storage facility under the Fylde coast countryside.

It comes as the latest planning battle is fought over the salt caverns of Over Wyre.

In one corner stands Halite – the company which replaced the American operation Canatxx – which wants to store thousands of tonnes of gas in underground caverns close to Preesall.

In the other, a hardy band of residents who have successfully fought three previous versions of the plans in the last decade on the basis of safety, including fears of potential explosions, the unsuitability of the area’s geology and the effects on traffic, noise pollution and wildlife.

A six-month examination of Halite’s plans by the Government’s Planning Inspectorate is now set to get underway.

But the Protect Wyre Group is aiming to go armed with thousands of letters of objection from residents.

Previous campaigns have seen thousands of letters and petitions against the scheme.

Ian Mulroy, chairman of Protect Wyre, today told The Gazette: “The message to residents is stand up and be counted again.

“You can’t leave it to everyone else – become aware of the facts and decide whether you want to object.

“This doesn’t just affect Preesall, the caverns are only half a mile from Fleetwood.

“This is the fourth application – and hopefully the last.

“A major concern in it being turned down last time was the volume of residents’ concerns – this is key to the campaign.

“We would like a real show of support for our campaign – we are aiming for 20,000 people.”

A leaflet campaign will begin next week, setting out Protect Wyre’s objections to Halite’s plans.

Protect Wyre is asking residents to respond to the leaflet with their own concerns and objections. These will then be presented in the group’s evidence to the Inspectorate. Protect Wyre Group has until June to submit their evidence.

Howard Phillips, Proetct Wyre’s vice chairman, said: “We will circulate the leaflets to a three-mile radius because when they have had accidents in the United States they have had to evacuate everyone within that distance. We believe everyone in that area needs to be aware and make their objections known.

“It is absolutely vital we get as many objections as possible.”

The Planning Inspectorate’s preliminary meeting, held this week at the Marine Hall in Fleetwood, set out the schedule for the examination into plans for 19 purpose-built caverns in the salt field at Preesall.

Following rejections of the Canatxx plans, its successor company Halite lodged a slimmed-down’ version with the Independent Planning Commission – now referred to as the National infrastructure of the Planning Inspectorate.

The 19 caverns would be used for the storage of up to 900m cubic metres of natural gas, including 600m cubic metres of working gas – a figure significantly lower than Canatxx plans submitted between 2005 and 2009.

Paul Hudson, chairman of the inspectorate panel, said geology, conservation, noise impact and landscape are among several principle issues to be investigated over the coming months.

The impact of brine discharge into the Irish Sea, disposal of waste, disruption of farmland from construction and compulsory purchase issues will also be discussed.

Nick Taylor, communications director at Halite Energy said: “Understanding and responding to the concerns and opinions of the local community in relation to our project has been very important to Halite.

“Last year we undertook an extensive consultation exercise in accordance with the Planning Act 2008.

“During this consultation the local community, alongside a wide range of statutory consultees, were invited to find out more about our proposals and share their opinions with us.

“In total Halite received 125 responses from the local community, with a further seven from landowners and 59 from statutory bodies, copies of which are all included in our consultation report which is an integral part of our application.

“This feedback has helped shape the application that is now being considered by the Planning Inspectorate.”

Next month the panel will carry out a site visit focusing on six areas, including the sea water pumping station site at Fleetwood Dock, Acres Lane, Preesall and a gas monitoring site in Nateby.

Residents wishing to object to the proposals should send any correspondence to the Protect Wyre Group at ianm@pwgroup.org.uk by Wednesday, May 16.

Alternatively log on to http://www.pwgroup.org.uk/ to fill in a form.

A final decision on the plan is expected to be made by the Secretary of State next April.