Aquind campaigners ‘outraged’ after firm donates £30,000 for Havant Borough Council park revamp

CONCERNS have been raised by campaigners after Aquind donated £30,000 for a park being revamped by a council opposed to the interconnector project.

By Toby Paine
Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 8:47 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 9:01 pm
Let's Stop Aquind protesters. Picture: Chris Moorhouse
Let's Stop Aquind protesters. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

The move comes despite a director saying earlier this year no cash could be given to the area in case it appears the firm is trying to ‘sweeten’ the community.

Aquind has submitted contested plans for a power cable between France and England, set to come ashore at Eastney and run to Lovedean.

The company has made £1.4m in donations to the Conservative Party and its MPs.

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The Let's Stop Aquind walking protest against Aquind at the Fort Cumberland car park in Eastney in July 2021. Picture: Sam Stephenson

Earlier this year one of its directors, Richard Glasspool, was asked by the BBC why money had been given to the Tories but nothing was handed to Portsmouth.

He said Aquind could not do so or ‘people would accuse us of trying to sweeten...’

Now it has emerged that £30,000 of Aquind cash will partly fund a Havant Borough Council revamp at Jubilee Park in Waterlooville.

Havant council objects to the interconnector plan. The final decision is set to be made by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, not local councillors.

Waterlooville Action Group, founded by Havant councillor Mike Sceal, approached Aquind for the £30,000 park funding earlier this year.

Cllr Sceal said fellow Havant Tory councillor Gwen Robinson made the approach - she did not respond to a request for comment.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said he would have turned down the cash if it had been offered to Portsmouth.

‘Personally, I think it’s unwise to accept money from people who want planning permission in your area,’ he said.

‘I know the argument is that it’s ministers who will be making these decisions and not local people.

‘There’s been big questions asked about whether it’s right that ministers make this decision when Aquind has donated over a million pounds to the Conservative party.

‘Whether (or not) permission is given, it gives the impression that you can buy planning permission in the UK.’

Councillor Judith Clementson represents the Denmead ward on Winchester City Council and is opposed to the plans.

Cllr Clementson said: ‘We’ve all worked very hard across all three councils to object strongly to this area being used for an interconnector.’

Havant Borough Council said the cash - paid in three instalments from Aquind in September, October and November - is only for the park.

A spokesman said that a ‘funding agreement is clear that the funds are for the play project alone’ and it does not give ‘support or promotion towards any other Aquind plans’.

But some campaigners remain concerned.

Southsea-based Viola Langley, from Let’s Stop Aquind, said members of the group are ‘outraged’.

She said: ‘It’s all very well to support a playground which is fantastic.’

But she added: ‘We are quite outraged actually about this.’

Flick Drummond, MP for Meon Valley whose constituency covers Waterlooville, said neither she nor her local Conservative association received any money from Aquind.

A Havant council spokesman said: ‘The Waterlooville Action Group approached Aquind in the early part of this year for funding support.

‘There is no suggestion of a link to providing any support or promotion towards any other Aquind plans.

‘Aquind was provided with an overview of the project and how it would benefit the community and it offered £30,000 to enable the refurbishment of the play area to happen.

‘The Aquind Interconnector is a national infrastructure project, the decision-maker is the Secretary of State via the Planning Inspectorate.

‘Havant Borough Council is not involved in the decision but has maintained an objection to the project as a statutory consultee.

‘HBC's objections centre on the disruption to the borough during construction and its impact on the landscape of the area.

‘Our initial objection was made in February 2020 long before the Waterlooville Action Group made an approach to Aquind and our objection remains unchanged.’

In a statement issued by its solicitors Schillings, Aquind said it was approached by Havant council and the action group, and provided match-funding for the park.

The statement said an agreement was reached on August 25. It added: ‘The donation has no link to or bearing on the application for a Development Consent Order for Aquind Interconnector or the impacts of the Aquind Interconnector, and for the avoidance of doubt discussions with the Waterlooville Action Group and Havant Borough Council on this matter did not commence until following the close of the examination of the DCO application.

‘The agreement itself expressly provides that “nothing in this agreement shall restrict nor inhibit the council from properly exercising its statutory role”, so as to make clear the donation made has no influence or bearing on Havant Borough Council in relation to the DCO application.’

Other sources of funding for the park include £45,000 from the community infrastructure levy, £2,000 from Aura gas engineers, £10,000 from the National Lottery and £3,000 from Cllr Ann Briggs’s Hampshire County Council grant.

A decision on the Aquind project was delayed in October until the new year.

Work is due to start on Jubilee Park next year and includes a ‘huge amount’ of play equipment.

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