The Government’s rejection of plans for a £1.2 billion cross-Channel power cable project was “legally flawed” and “inexplicable”, its developer has argued 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.
The proposed infrastructure project has seen objections raised by Portsmouth MPs and the city council, while a former energy minister excused herself from the decision-making process over funding from one of Aquind’s owners.
Aquind Limited, part-owned by Russian-born former oil tycoon Victor Fedotov, has donated at least £430,000 to the Tory Party and MPs, while Alexander Temerko, a British citizen who was born in the former Soviet Union and who is listed as a director of the company, has given more than £730,000.
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 of “the proposed landfall in an urban location”.
But in a legal challenge seeking to quash the minister’s decision, Aquind argued he was “misled” by officials, “failed” to take account of certain evidence and adopted an unfair decision-making procedure.
The company’s claim is opposed by the Government who argued during a two-day hearing in London that the Business Secretary – a role now occupied by Grant Shapps – had given “proper, adequate and intelligible reasons” for the decision.
Mrs Justice Lieven said she would give her judgment in the case at a later date after proceedings concluded on Wednesday.
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.
Mr Bird claimed the “sole reason” for the refusal was the potential suitability of an alternative grid connection point at the Mannington substation in Dorset.
But the barrister said that for the then Business Secretary to “down tools” and refuse consent rather that seek information on this “single possible stumbling block is inexplicable”.
The minister had “failed in breach of his duty to take reasonable steps to inform himself as to the feasibility of Mannington,” Mr Bird said.
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 Mannington, 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 windfarm 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 “benefitted 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 “adequately explained that he was not satisfied”, in light of the windfarm refusal, that it had been shown 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.
Mr Strachan said there was “no error of law”, arguing that Aquind had not provided an analysis over whether the windfarm refusal “changed the suitability” of Mannington.
Conservative MP for Portsmouth North Penny Mordaunt, currently Leader of the House of Commons, and the Labour MP Stephen Morgan, representing Portsmouth South, previously welcomed the refusal of development consent.
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 over funding received by Northumberland Conservatives.
In 2020, Mr Temerko told MPs that Russian-linked businessmen had “zero” political influence.
In an interview with the PA news agency following the consent refusal, Mr Temerko expressed anger at Ms Mordaunt’s intervention over the project and struck out at Mr Kwarteng’s “unusual decision”.