Undersea cable firm Aquind's bid for land and access rights in Hampshire are branded 'draconian'

POWERS sought by Aquind to force landowners to sell up and seize rights over swathes of land have been branded ‘draconian’.

Tuesday, 18th August 2020, 7:00 am
An image provided by Aquind of inside an existing converter station. Picture: ABB

Council and pub car parks, farmland, stretches of public roads, part of Bransbury Park, Sainsbury’s Farlington car park and land off Furze Lane owned by the University of Portsmouth are being targeted by the company.

Aquind has set aside around £4m to compulsorily purchase land. The firm, led by Conservative Party donor Alexander Temerko, says it needs the land, or access to it, to run power cables from Eastney more than 12 miles to a new converter station in Lovedean.

It has set out a list of more than 60 entities or individuals owning land from whom it wants to either acquire, temporarily use - or gain rights.

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Aquind Interconnector converter station

Aquind is hopeful a minister will sign off on a Development Consent Order (DCO), paving the way to granting it acquisition rights for the project.

The company has told The News it is ‘committed to continued engagement’ with councils and stakeholders.

It said it is talking with landowners and tenants who ‘could be impacted by the construction of the project’ and is hoping to acquire what it needs via mutual agreement before compulsory purchase is necessary.

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An image provided by Aquind of a cable laying vessel. Picture: Prysmian

But concerns have been raised over the powers it wants and Aquind’s own admission that full funding is not yet in place for the £1.2bn project.

In a letter Portsmouth City Council’s assistant director of planning, Ian Maguire, has branded the powers Aquind wants as ‘draconian’.

In the letter, published on the Planning Inspectorate website, he said: ‘Without knowledge that sufficient funding will be available from given sources, the consideration of any scheme would be a waste of time, while the grant of compulsory acquisition rights would be an intolerable interference with human rights.

He added: ‘Aquind's status as a private limited company means that no assumptions can be made as to its financial standing.

‘The grant of draconian powers of acquisition to a new, private company (who could look to assign the benefit of any DCO to another, unknown private company) is unusual.’

In a previous written submission, Portsmouth City Council said the firm’s justification for the loss of ‘public rights and protections amounts to no more than convenience to Aquind’.

It added its actions are ‘symptomatic of Aquind attempting to obtain special, unwarranted treatment’.

David Conboy, a real estate adviser for Sainsbury’s has warned the route running along a ‘significant portion of the car park’ at its Farlington store ‘has the potential to cause considerable disruption’ and wants the firm to look at alternative routes.

A University of Portsmouth spokesman yesterday confirmed the institution ‘(does) not support the proposal by Aquind to install power cables on university land’.

It comes as independent planning inspectors examining the bid to run undersea power cables from Normandy in France, to Eastney, in Portsmouth, hold a first public meeting today.

Political leaders in Portsmouth have opposed Aquind since 2018 when the initial plans were unveiled.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, city council leader, told The News he thinks the project will cause ‘mayhem’. He said it was not a good idea to land the cable ‘through the second most densely-populated city in the country’.

Today The News can also reveal:

:: Farmers face losing 40 acres - with one owner warning they face ‘having to end over 80 years of farming history’.

:: The Crown Estate has yet to give Aquind permission to use its land at Eastney to bring the undersea cable ashore.

Owners of the 53-acre Little Denmead Farm face losing 30 acres if a compulsory purchase order is granted, with another two acres affected by access rights.

A representation to the Planning Inspectorate, submitted on the owner’s behalf by city-based solicitors Blake Morgan LLP, said: ‘Reducing the farm to just 22 acres means that the farm is unlikely to be able to continue to operate as a viable business.

‘(The owners) have owned the farm since 1939 and therefore face the prospect of having to end over 80 years of farming history.’

It added there had been a ‘a lack of engagement’ from Aquind.

Robin Jeffries is the freehold owner of Mill View Farm.

Solicitors from Blake Morgan said 2.3 acres of an eight-acre field are subject to a proposed compulsory purchase order, reducing it so much as to affect his tenant's business.

The submission said: ‘This will significantly interfere with our client's activities on this land.

‘The field is used in connection with stabling and is let out to a tenant who runs (a) horse livery stable.

‘With the loss of over 30 per cent the remaining size of the field will be too small to enable his tenant to continue to run the livery business there and will need to vacate, thus denying our client with a source of income.’

Meon Valley MP Flick Drummond said the scheme has the ‘prospect of reliable and cheaper electricity for the country’.

She added: ‘Saying that, I also fully understand residents’ concerns and I am working with them and Aquind to see what we can do to mitigate any disruption and improve the landscaping of this substantial building (at Lovedean), if the minister decides that it will be going ahead.

The company, which undertook consultation work in 2018 and 2019, told The News: ‘Aquind is also continuing to engage with affected landowners and tenants that could be impacted by the construction of the project to acquire the land and land rights required by agreement in line with government guidance.’

The Crown Estate is in charge of awarding rights to use the seabed off the coast of England.

A Crown Estate spokeswoman said: ‘To date, we have granted an option agreement for the proposed subsea cable corridor, out to the UK territorial limit, and are currently discussing their application for the proposed onshore connection, at Eastney in Portsmouth.’

An Aquind statement said: ‘The project is fully funded through the planning stage and additional investment will be secured from a range of sources once the DCO application has been approved, as is common for infrastructure projects of this kind.’

A further statement said: ‘Any land acquisition rights associated with the project would be granted solely for the purposes of the construction and development of the Interconnector, with the rights sought clearly established as part of the application.

‘In the case of ownership change, the purpose and other limitations of the CPO will remain.

‘Any transfer of the benefit of the DCO (including the rights to compulsorily acquire land and rights in connection with the Interconnector) would be subject to the prior approval of the secretary of state who would consider all matters relevant to that decision at that time, as is the standard position in DCOs.’

‘The scheme has been carefully designed to avoid the need for overhead power lines and Aquind has worked hard to ensure the temporary impacts associated with the installation of underground cables are minimised.

‘Since presenting its initial cable route to the local community in early 2018, the route has evolved considerably in response to the feedback received over the course of two rounds of public consultation.

‘Many of the more sensitive locations have either been significantly reduced or removed from the route altogether, for example Milton Road in Portsmouth and a route through Denmead.

‘Seasonal events, ecological considerations and other constraints have also been taken into account in the development of the proposals.

‘Aquind is in discussion with all relevant stakeholders that could be impacted by the construction of the project.’

A second public meeting is due to be held in September where the plans will be examined.

What Aquind has said

DEVELOPER Aquind said its project will benefit consumers in Britain.

The project would link the French and British electricity grids.

Considered a project of national significance, the plans are being assessed for Development Consent Order by the Planning Inspectorate.

This is instead of local authorities determining the application.

A final say will be given within six months of the examination by a minister.

The firm said energy security would be boosted, with the interconnector able to transmit around five per cent of the annual electricity demand, and it would help reduce wholesale prices.

It estimated a ‘consumer welfare benefit of £2bn in present value terms’ in the first 25 years of its operation.

The interconnector will help meet decarbonisation targets, the firm said.

It's hoped the scheme will create 250 jobs directly, with another 100 indirect jobs. Another 250-275 would be created during the installation of the cables at sea, with local firms involved.

The cable would travel more than 12 miles from Eastney to Lovedean, to a new converter station at Lovedean, close to the existing National Grid substation.

Night-time work will be carried out where necessary and road closures will be avoided as well.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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