MP says battle not over in gas plans backlash

Land in Preesall where gas could be stored
Land in Preesall where gas could be stored
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Campaigners have been urged to seek a judicial review into the Conservative government’s controversial approval of gas storage plans - by a member of its own party.

Fuming Preston North and Wyre MP Ben Wallace has spoken out in anger after the Government gave the green light to Halite’s plans to store 900 million cubic metres of gas in 19 salt caverns under the River Wyre.

What angers me is that the inspector’s report gives the benefit of the doubt to Halite and not the community and I have made this clear to the secretary of state for energy

Halite forced a judicial review into the Government’s third rejection of the hugely-unpopular scheme despite up to 40,000 signing a petition against the scheme.

Energy Minister Lord Bourne granted planning consent for the Preesall Underground Gas Storage Facility project, which it says could create 40 jobs.

But Conservative MP Mr Wallace, an outspoken critic of the scheme for over a decade, said the battle is not over yet.

Mr Wallace, who described Halite and its previous incarnation Canatxx as “arrogant”, said: “I will be telling Wyre Council and Lancashire County Council to seek their own judicial reviews into this decision. Halite took this to a judicial review so there is nothing stopping the respective councils doing the same.

“What angers me is that the inspector’s report gives the benefit of the doubt to Halite and not the community and I have made this clear to the secretary of state for energy.

“I am also concerned that this decision makes people’s trust in the government much lower when it comes to things like fracking. It will give people the impression that if it chooses it can push things through despite public opinion.”

A cross-party group of councillors at Wyre has called a special Notice of Motion asking for Wyre Council and Lancashire County Council to work together to obtain a judicial review into how “this perverse decision” by the Government can be challenged.

Such a move would not be able to challenge the actual decision taken by the Government, but the process by which it arrived at that decision. The Notice will be called at tomorrow’s full council meeting.

Coun Gibson said: “I don’t want to give people false hope but if there is anything we can do to challenge it, it is worth doing. It was a ridiculous decision to grant Halite permission and if the process was flawed, it may give us a chance.”

The facility is proposed to be constructed on the east side of the Wyre Estuary at Preesall in Lancashire and will be used to store and extract gas from local underground salt caverns.

Mr Wallace acknowledged the Government’s decision to grant Halite’s plans could weaken the Conservatives in the eyes of the public.

He said: “I don’t think anyone can question my commitment to this issue, I have fought it for 13 years and I have broken pretty much every rule in the book to try to stop it and I am as angry as the campaigners are.

“But it’s another step towards strengthening people’s view that Whitehall and Westminster is not responsive to different needs of different communities and don’t represent them. People may understandably think it is very London-centric and they don’t seem to listen as they used to.”

Mr Wallace has also written to the European Commission to ask it to investigate a potential breach of the environmental safeguards, which are in place to protect Morecambe Bay and the Wyre Estuary.