Conservative ministers 'in total fantasy' over impartiality on £1.2bn Portsmouth Aquind interconnector decision

MINISTERS have been accused of being in a ‘total fantasy’ in thinking they can make an impartial decision over the £1.2bn Aquind interconnector plan.

By Ben Fishwick
Saturday, 24th April 2021, 10:30 pm
Updated Saturday, 24th April 2021, 10:58 pm

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband today said the ministers set to make a decision over the cross-Channel project cannot be impartial due to donations paid to the Conservative Party and its MPs by Aquind and its director.

The Planning Inspectorate’s Examining Authority is assessing the plan after months of hearings, and the final decision will be made by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. His predecessor Alok Sharma recused himself after receiving a donation from Aquind.

If approval is won, power cables from France will come ashore at Eastney in Portsmouth and run up to Lovedean.

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Protesters make their voices heard over the plans for Aquind to run interconnector cables through Portsmouth in October 2020. Picture: Richard Lemmer

Mr Miliband said the government must explain itself over donations from the company and its director Alexander Temerko.

Energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan declared in 2020 a £2,500 donation from Aquind.

Lord Callanan, appointed a business minister in February last year, was a non-executive director at the firm until 2017.

Their department has today confirmed to The News neither will have any role in the final decision.

Aquind protesters near the decorated tree near Eastern Road, Portsmouth on April 21, 2021. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Mr Kwarteng, while a minister, wrote in March 2020 a letter to Mr Temerko that ‘our support for the project remains’. This related to it being listed as a EU Project of Common Interest - not planning approval.

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Aquind said it complies with ‘all relevant laws and legislations of the UK, France and the European Union’.

In a statement to The News, former Labour leader Mr Miliband said: ‘There is clearly a serious conflict of interest here that must be urgently addressed.

‘But any belief that ministers in the business department could be making genuinely impartial decisions about the future of our energy sector whilst pocketing donations from the companies involved, is a total fantasy.

‘There is a real issue of the culture of this government which comes straight from the top and Boris Johnson.

‘The government must come clean and explain how this will not be yet another episode of Tory sleaze.’

A recommendation is due to be sent to ministers by June.

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan added: ‘Aquind would cause untold damage and disruption to Portsmouth with no clear benefits to our local area, that’s why I continue to oppose it.

‘Beneath the cosy relationships ministers have with their billionaire donors are choices that affect the day-to-day lives of people in Portsmouth.

‘They deserve total transparency from this government and a real say in the decisions about the project.’

Asked about the letter by Mr Kwarteng, an Aquind spokesman said the interconnector would ‘keep the lights on’ for 5m British households, and is an ‘essential part of the national infrastructure’ to meet climate change targets.

It will save consumers between £2bn and £3.8bn and cut CO2 emissions, the spokesman added.

He said: ‘The Examination of the Development Consent Order application is the most comprehensive and overarching planning consent process in the UK.

‘In the Development Consent Order, Aquind went to considerable lengths to minimise impacts of the Project. The process is managed by an independent Examining Authority, which provides (a) recommendation to the government.

‘Aquind is strictly compliant with all relevant laws and legislations of the UK, France and the European Union.

‘Aquind is the largest interconnector in the pipeline, and as any other major infrastructure developer is required to maintain an ongoing engagement with the relevant government departments at all levels, including at a ministerial level.’

The company was asked by The News today about Labour’s request that two ministers recuse themselves.

A spokesman from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: ‘All applications for development consent are dealt with by the department in line with Government Propriety Guidance, and are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

‘Neither Minister Trevelyan nor Lord Callanan will have any role in the decision.’

Grassroots campaign against Aquind

It comes as grassroots campaigners decorated a tree in Milton in opposition to the plan.

Campaigner Viola Langley, who runs Let's Stop Aquind, held a static protest at the People's Memorial on Wednesday.

Her team decorated a tree as part of their protest.

She said: ‘We dressed the tree (on) Wednesday as a static protest to show our objection to this project for many reasons, environmental, funding, (and a) threat to democracy.’

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