Deadline looming on decision over 'disastrous' £1.2bn Aquind energy cable in Portsmouth

WITH the deadline looming for a decision on the highly-controversial Aquind interconnector project, opponents of the 'disastrous' scheme have made a last-ditch plea for it to be rejected.

By Joshua Wright
Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 4:55 am

Portsmouth MPs have been joined by council leaders and campaigners this week in appealing to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng ahead of his Friday deadline for deciding the planning application.

The final decision has twice been delayed, most recently in October when Mr Kwarteng said he needed 'clarification from the applicant on several issues'.

Aquind said the new £1.2bn link between the British and French power grids would improve energy supply and reduce carbon emissions but its detractors said it would cause 'havoc' across the city and put national security at risk.

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Let's Stop Aquind protesters, Fort Cumberland car park, Eastney Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 131021-09)

If approved, its proposals would see cables installed under the English Channel from France, coming ashore at Eastney before extending through Bransbury Park, Milton Allotments, Eastern Road and Farlington Playing Fields to a converter at Lovedean.

Earlier this month, a petition started by campaign group Let’s Stop Aquind, which attracted more than 1,600 signatures, said the route was 'unfeasible' and the negative effects 'too great'.

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Group founder Viola Langley, who has spearheaded opposition to the project, said there was 'a long list of reasons' why the interconnector should not be approved.

Viola Langley co-founder of Let's Stop Aquind at the COP26 demonstration. Picture: Mike Cooter (061121)

'The route chosen is not right,' she said. 'It goes through the most densely-populated city – one that already suffers from serious problems with air pollution – it will cause chaos on the roads and it goes right through protected environmental areas for no benefit to the city.'

But she said concerns went beyond the direct impact it would have in Portsmouth to issues of energy supply and the need to reduce reliance on imports from abroad and the 'opaque' history of the company.

'There are a huge number of reasons for rejecting it,' she added. 'No one wants it. It will bring no benefit to this city and bring massive disruption and destruction.'

The group has won cross-party political support in Portsmouth.

The 'Let's Stop Aquind' walking protest against Aquind pictured starting at the Fort Cumberland car park in Eastney. Pictured is Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council speaking at the gathering, with Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, right, and Tory councillor Terry Norton, left, Picture: Sam Stephenson

In a letter to Mr Kwarteng sent earlier this week, the Liberal Democrat leader of Portsmouth City Council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said the project was 'just not right for Portsmouth'.

'There are arguments why the UK needs these interconnectors,' Cllr Vernon-Jackson wrote. 'But bringing in this interconnector to the southern side of Britain's only island city is just not right.'

He said it would lead to 'traffic chaos', risked damaging the environment and 'precious' open spaces and would increase the UK's reliance on importing electricity.

Conservative group leader Simon Bosher said the project would lead to the 'devastation' of the east of the city.

The News front page on October 1, 2021. Aquind.

'The interconnector will bring no positives to Portsmouth,' he said. 'And at the same time it will destroy important habitats and cause havoc in the city.

'Aquind do not care for the best interests of this city or this country.'

This 'rare' political unanimity in the city is not reserved solely to the city council, with both Labour MP for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, and the Conservative MP for Portsmouth North, Penny Mordaunt, joining the opposition.

Ms Mordaunt said the project was 'not only really bad for the city...but also a really bad idea for the country'.

'The French have already said that they will turn off the power, that they will use future energy supply as a bargaining chip in future negotiations,' she said. 'That doesn't help our energy security.'

She added that there were 'serious concerns about who is behind the project and what their intentions are'.

Pictured is Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, speaking at a protest against Aquind at Fort Cumberland, in Eastney. Picture: Sam Stephenson

Mr Morgan, who last year launched his own position calling for the project to be stopped, said Mr Kwarteng had to reject the plan.

'Aquind would cause devastating disruption to Portsmouth, the most densely-populated city after London,' he said. 'Roads, parks and the precious natural environment would be ripped up. Residents will face noise, dust and huge traffic problems.'

He added: 'This project has been mired in cronyism. Aquind’s owners have donated money to one in 10 Tory MPs.

'This week, the business secretary can finally put this to bed once and for all and end the dither and delay.

'He has a clear choice: he can either side with the people of Portsmouth, or continue with this government’s tired approach of... taking decisions away from our community and making them behind a desk in Whitehall.'

A spokesman for Aquind said it had listened to the concerns raised and had 'considerably' altered its proposals in response to them.

'Aquind Interconnector has been carefully designed with the environment at the heart of the project’s development,' the company said. 'Aquind has worked hard to ensure the impacts associated with the project are avoided or minimised.'

The Aquind spokesman added: 'Since presenting its initial cable route in early 2018, the route has evolved considerably in response to feedback. As a direct result, many of the more sensitive locations of the cable corridor were either significantly reduced or removed altogether.

'The project meets all [of the] UK’s government policies and objectives, including the Net Zero Strategy. With the ability to transmit up to five per cent of annual electricity consumption – enough to power nearly five million British homes – the scheme will be hugely beneficial for Great Britain and the South East of England, where consumption exceeds generation of electricity.'

They added that it would help reduce the impact of 'volatile' gas and coal prices which have prompted recent soaring energy prices and that the project would 'deliver estimated consumer savings of several billion pounds over the first 25 years of the project’s operation' and help lower reliance on fossil fuel by between 40m and 70m tonnes over its first 25 years.

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