Controversial plans for a huge underground gas storage facility in Lancashire have been boosted after the High Court identified ‘real deficiencies’ in the Government’s decision to reject the scheme and directed a full reconsideration of the matter.
Halite Energy Group Limited wants to excavate 19 rock salt caverns for the storage of up to 600 million cubic metres of gas at Preesall, near Fleetwood. Due to the project’s ‘national significance’, the final decision fell to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who refused to grant development consent.
Halite attacked the decision as ‘irrational and perverse’ and triumphed when the Court ruled that its arguments had not been fairly considered. Too high a threshold had been imposed on the company when it came to assessing the viability of the project and the geological challenges it faced, the Court ruled.
The bid to win consent for the scheme was the fourth time that Halite had sought permission for a gas storage facility in the area and, despite its enormous size, it was about 50 per cent smaller than the company’s previous proposals. The plans had been looked at in detail by an examining body which recommended that development consent be granted, subject to tight conditions.
However, the Secretary of State went his own way, refusing consent on the basis that he could not be sure that the benefits of the project would outweigh the inevitable harm to the local landscape. He had also expressed concerns that the local geology might prove unsuitable or that only a ‘much smaller’ storage facility than that proposed would in fact prove feasible.
Halite argued successfully that, in reaching his decision, the Secretary of State had applied too tough a legal test when he required the company to prove the benefits and viability of its proposals ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. His conclusion that the company had provided inadequate geological information – without telling it what further details were needed – was also procedurally unfair.