A Government decision to reject plans for a £1.2 billion cross-Channel power cable project has been quashed at the High Court.
Development consent for Aquind’s new subsea electricity link between Portsmouth on the south coast and Normandy in France was refused by then business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng in January 2022.
But, in a ruling on Tuesday, Mrs Justice Lieven concluded Mr Kwarteng “erred in law” and failed to comply with his department’s National Policy Statement on energy when reaching the decision.
The plans will now have to go back for reconsideration by the current Business Secretary Grant Shapps.
A Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government is disappointed by the outcome but we will be considering the judgment carefully before deciding next steps.”
The proposed infrastructure project has seen objections raised by Portsmouth MPs and the city council, while a former energy minister recused herself from the decision-making process over funding from one of Aquind’s owners.
Aquind Limited, which is part-owned by former oil tycoon Viktor Fedotov, has donated at least £430,000 to the Tory Party and MPs, and Alexander Temerko, who is listed as a director of the company, has given more than £730,000.
Penny Mordaunt, the Commons Leader who represents Portsmouth North, vowed to “fight on” in the campaign to block the project.
The former defence secretary said: “Disappointing though this decision is, I remain confident that this unwanted and unnecessary project will never happen.
“It is hard to imagine why any investor would want to be associated with it. I believe the Government’s decision was the right one and that it will stand.
“I also know that our whole community will again make the case for why this is so damaging, not just to our local area, but to the whole of the UK.
“We will fight on, and we must win.”
Mr Temerko has previously threatened legal action against Ms Mordaunt, who he described as the “biggest threat to security”.
Last year he told the PA news agency Mr Kwarteng’s decision to block the project was “unusual”.
In a statement after the ruling, Aquind director Richard Glasspool said: “This is wonderful news for the Aquind interconnector project. We were dismayed and disappointed when Kwasi Kwarteng refused the development consent order.
“We look forward to re-engaging with local residents, stakeholders, environmental experts, and energy professionals in order to pursue the commitment to meeting the UK’s net zero energy target.”
Mr Kwarteng was previously said not to be satisfied that “appropriate alternatives to the proposed route” had been sufficiently considered in proposals, raising particular concerns over “the proposed landfall in an urban location”.
At a hearing in London in November, Aquind argued he was “misled” by officials, “failed” to take account of certain evidence and adopted an unfair decision-making procedure.
Simon Bird KC, for Aquind, told the court in written submissions that the proposed interconnector would be able to transmit up to 16,000,000Mwh of electricity per year, which was about 5% and 3% of the total consumption of the UK and France respectively.
It had sought consent over “marine and onshore 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, close to the South Downs National Park.
He added that Aquind had explained the “environmental impacts and increased costs to the consumer arising from the need for network reinforcements” as arguments against using an alternative site at Mannington in Dorset, such as the need for longer submarine cables crossing a major shipping lane.
He added it was “undeniably clear” that Mannington and other options west of Lovedean were unsuitable due to such impacts, with the 2015 development consent refusal of the Navitus Bay offshore wind farm project that would connect to Mannington being unrelated to these “free-standing” concerns.
Mr Bird said the minister had made no finding over whether the project “benefited from the presumption in favour of the grant of consent” and did not weigh any “adverse effects” against “the urgent and compelling national need” for the interconnector.
But James Strachan KC, representing the Government, said in written arguments that the Business Secretary had “adequately explained that he was not satisfied”, in light of the wind farm refusal, that it had been demonstrated that Mannington “was not an alternative which would avoid the significant harms of the proposed development”.
The minister concluded that the “adverse impacts” of the proposed project “were sufficient to warrant consideration of alternatives”, Mr Strachan added.
Potential impacts included “heritage harm, impacts on tourism receptors, sports pitches, the Victorious Festival, private loss in the context of compulsory purchase and delay to the North Portsea Island Coastal Defence Scheme”, the court was told.
In her ruling, Mrs Justice Lieven concluded that Mr Kwarteng failed to take into account relevant evidence over the suitability of the alternative grid connection point at the Mannington substation.
The judge said the decision to refuse the application without making further inquiries about the feasibility of Mannington was “irrational” and that the minister had also “failed to apply the relevant policies in a lawful manner”.
She said the legal challenge was “not a case which turns on any procedural unfairness, but rather with the Secretary of State’s failure to properly consider the information that he had been given”.
Berwick-upon-Tweed MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, now a minister in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, removed herself from the decision-making process in July last year over funding received by Northumberland Conservatives.