UK must review decision to block UK-France power cable project - court ruling

French flag and British national flag in Violaines

By Sam Tobin

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain must review its refusal to grant development consent for a high-voltage undersea power cable project linking Britain and France, London's High Court ruled on Tuesday.

Investment firm Aquind, which says its undersea cable linking England and Normandy would be able to transmit 16,000,000 MWh of electricity each year, took legal action after then-Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng refused consent in January 2022.

Judge Nathalie Lieven said in a written ruling on Tuesday that Kwarteng failed to take into account evidence about an alternative location for a substation in England and wrongly applied the business department’s planning policies.

Aquind’s director Richard Glasspool said in a statement the decision was "wonderful news".

"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," he said.

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 project – which would be able to transmit around 5% and 3% of the total consumption of Britain and France respectively – was recommended for approval in a report sent to Kwarteng in June, 2021.

After requesting further information, Kwarteng last year decided that Aquind had given "insufficient consideration" to an alternative connection point in Dorset in southern England, which Aquind had previously rejected.

However, the High Court ruled that it was "irrational" for Kwarteng to refuse Aquind’s application without making further inquiries about the feasibility of the location in Dorset.

Lieven said the inspectors who initially recommended approval found that "the development could meet 4-5% of Britain's electricity need with the obvious public benefits that would follow".

The judge added that "the level of this public benefit meant that any reasonable (minister) would have inquired into the feasibility and viability" of the alternative site before rejecting the development on a "purely speculative basis".

(Reporting by Sam Tobin and Elizabeth Piper, editing by William James, Ed Osmond and Angus MacSwan)