Gas refusal ‘perverse’, court hears

The Preesall site where Halite plan to build the gas storage plant. Below: Ed Davey
The Preesall site where Halite plan to build the gas storage plant. Below: Ed Davey
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An energy giant behind controversial plans to store gas under the Wyre countryside has blasted a decision to refuse the plans as “irrational and perverse” before a High Court hearing.

Halite Energy Group wants to excavate 19 rock salt caverns for the storage of millions of tonnes of cubic metres of gas, at Preesall, London’s High Court heard as a judicial review into the plans began yesterday.

Ed Davey

Ed Davey

But, due to the project’s “national significance”, the final decision fell on Secretary of State for Energy, Edward Davey, who scotched the plans when he refused to grant a development consent order earlier this year.

Now Halite is attacking that decision before one of the country’s most senior judges, insisting it was based upon an unfair and flawed assessment of the geological challenges the company faced.

The bid to win over Mr Davey was the fourth time permission had been sought for a gas storage facility in the area and, despite its enormous size, the latest plan was about 50 per cent smaller than the company’s previous proposals.

Halite’s counsel, Michael Humphries QC, said the plans had been looked at in detail by an examining body working for the planning inspectorate which ultimately recommended that development consent be granted, subject to tight conditions.

However, Mr Davey went his own way, refusing consent, and Halite argues it was simply “unlawful” for him to do that.

Mr Humphries said permission had been refused, not because of any safety concerns, but because Mr Davey said that, on the geological information available, he could not be sure that the benefits of the project would outweigh the inevitable harm to the local landscape.

The Secretary of State had also expressed concerns that, when it came down to it, the local geology might prove unsuitable or that only a “much smaller” storage facility than that currently proposed by Halite would prove feasible.

Mr Humphries argued that, in reaching his decision, Mr Davey applied the wrong legal test when he required Halite to prove the benefits and viability of its proposals “beyond reasonable doubt.”

Mr Davey’s conclusion that the company had provided inadequate geological information - without telling it what details he needed to see - was “starkly procedurally unfair,” the QC added.

In taking the “perverse” view that there was ‘a significant possibility’ that no development would be possible, or only a much smaller one, the Secretary of State had either misunderstood, or misread, the geological data, he said.

In his decision, Mr Davey said that, on the information provided by the company, he was “unable, with any degree of certainty, to consider the potential benefits of the proposals against the more clearly defined potential impacts.”

But Mr Humphries argued that he had given inadequate reasons for his unusual decision to depart from the examining body’s recommendations. The High Court hearing, expected to last two days, continues today.

Mrs Justice Patterson is expected to reserve her decision on Halite’s judicial review challenge until a later date.

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