Aquind in Portsmouth: Furious city leaders hit out at 'dithering' business secretary for delaying decision on £1.2bn interconnector plan

FURIOUS political leaders in Portsmouth unleashed a vicious broadside against ‘dithering’ business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng after he failed to come to a decision over the controversial Aquind interconnector plan.

By Tom Cotterill
Friday, 22nd October 2021, 4:45 am
Updated Friday, 22nd October 2021, 4:37 pm
The 'Let's Stop Aquind' walking protest against Aquind pictured starting at the Fort Cumberland car park in Eastney.
Pictured is general views of the event taking place.
Picture: Sam Stephenson
The 'Let's Stop Aquind' walking protest against Aquind pictured starting at the Fort Cumberland car park in Eastney. Pictured is general views of the event taking place. Picture: Sam Stephenson

The huge £1.2bn project would see a cross-Channel power cable come ashore at Eastney and run up to Lovedean – in a move campaigners fear will cause years of chaos in the city.

The proposal has been widely condemned by residents in Portsmouth, with all the city’s political parties – as well as its two MPs – united in fierce opposition and more than 6,000 people backing a petition against it.

But despite having months to determine whether or not to approve the controversial energy scheme, Mr Kwarteng instead decided to postpone his decision for a further three months, until January 21, prompting anger and uncertainty in Portsmouth.

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'Dither and delay': Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson speaking out during a protest against Aquind. Pictured behind is Cllr Terry Norton and Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP. Picture: Sam Stephenson

The senior Tory said the move was made as he ‘required clarification from the applicant on several issues’ relating to the project.

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But the news ignited fury across the city, as civic chiefs rounded on Mr Kwarteng and accused him of ‘failing’ in his role as a secretary of state.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said: 'This is yet another example of government dither and delay, putting off a difficult decision. This is what ministers get paid very large salaries to do – the business secretary is failing in his job.

Pictured is: Viola Langley and Paula Ann Savage, leaders of Let's Stop Aquind Picture: Keith Woodland (021021-187)

‘The minister has now had this on his desk for six months and now wants another three months. How long does it take to say “yes” or “no”?

‘So I’m disappointed the government has chosen not to make a decision. It is absolutely clear from all parties in the city that this is hugely unpopular. Portsmouth deserves an answer.’

The news comes after questions were raised over Whitehall’s decision-making process, with Aquind and its owners having made political donations worth £1.4m to the Conservative Party and 34 of its MPs.

The company insisted it had complied with the law in the donations.

Under fire: Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has been blasted for delaying his decision on the Aquind interconnector plan until January 2022. Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Earlier this month, Mr Kwarteng was asked directly by BBC journalist Andrew Marr if he was in favour of the project. He said: ‘I have never commented on this specific project.’

However, letters uncovered through a Freedom of Information request, showed Mr Kwarteng indicated both his and the government’s support for the project when he was energy minister.

The revelation prompted calls from Portsmouth’s Conservative group leader Councillor Simon Bosher for prime minister Boris Johnson to intervene.

Speaking on Thursday, Cllr Bosher said he was ‘extremely frustrated’ by news of ministerial inaction over the Aquind decision.

He said: ‘It is extremely disappointing that the decision has been delayed until the New Year.

‘Portsmouth Conservatives have maintained our opposition to the scheme from the outset and will continue to do so.

‘Portsmouth needs this scheme to be rejected sooner rather than later – not kicked into the long grass.’

His view was shared by Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, who has been campaigning with Tory MP for Portsmouth North, Penny Mordaunt, for the scheme to be scrapped.

The shadow armed forces minister said: ‘The business secretary has once again ducked a decision on this disastrous project, which will cause daily disruption in Portsmouth and threatens our national security.

‘With clear community opposition to the plans, and fresh fraud allegations against the company’s Conservative party donors, the case for stopping Aquind has never been clearer.

‘But the secretary of state has chosen more dither and delay, raising further questions about what exactly the company's owners received in return for their generous donations to his party.

‘It’s high time the government stopped Aquind once and for all. Ministers must put an end to the uncertainty for Portsmouth and protect our national infrastructure.’

Last night’s news came as a bitter blow for the hundreds of campaigners in the city who have fought tooth and nail for years to prevent Aquind’s plans.

In a joint statement, Let’s Stop Aquind campaign co-leaders, Viola Langley and Paula Ann Savage said: ‘This project has no merit and no benefits for communities along the route.

‘We have campaigned hard to raise awareness of the risks to wildlife habitats, to our health and well-being, to businesses and to national security. We want Aquind stopped once and for all.’

Mr Kwasi is now due to make his final decision on January 21, 2022.

Speaking of the deadline extension, a spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: ‘This is to ensure there is time to consider all relevant and important matters ahead of taking the decision on the application.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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