Former business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s decision to refuse planning permission for the £1.2bn Aquind Interconnector between England and France has been overturned in the High Court.
The Aquind Interconnector project involves laying of HVDC cables to carry 2GW of power between the south coast of England and Normandy in France.
Kwarteng ruled against the proposals last January, stating that the “adverse effects” of the scheme “weigh against the proposed development”. These effects include the possible delay of the North Portsea Island Coastal Defence scheme due to the overlapping of construction compound areas.
However Aquind subsequently challenged the decision in the High Court after being granted a judicial review. Following the verdict, the project is expected to be referred back to current business secretary Grant Shapps to make a final decision.
In a statement, the government said it was “disappointed by the outcome but we will be considering the judgment carefully before deciding next steps”.
Aquind director Richard Glasspool welcomed the ruling. He said: “This is wonderful news for the Aquind Interconnector project. We were dismayed and disappointed when Kwasi Kwarteng refused the Development Consent Order. We look forward to re-engaging with local residents, stakeholders, environmental experts, and energy professionals in order to pursue the commitment to meeting the UK’s net zero energy target.”
Approval of the project was already delayed due to Brexit, with French energy regulator CRE stating that it cannot anticipate how interconnectors will be regulated now the UK is outside the EU, or how they will impact the European energy market.
Meanwhile, MP for Portsmouth North Penny Mordaunt, a UK trade minister and former defence secretary, has reportedly spoken out against the scheme. According to The Times she said it would make Britain more reliant on France, which has threatened to interrupt supplies in disputes over fishing.
“The French have already said they will turn off the power, they will use future energy supply as a bargaining chip,” she told The Times. “That doesn’t help our energy security.”
Registration of interested parties – part of the planning process – began for the interconnector in January 2020, but in March 2020 concerns were raised that the proposed project would impact the construction of a windfarm on the Sussex coast.
RWE Renewables UK (RWER) said the suggested route for the marine cables of the interconnector crossed the site of the proposed Rampion Extension offshore windfarm, which is located off the coast between Brighton and Worthing.
Responding to the Aquind’s development consent order application – published on the National Infrastructure Planning website – windfarm shareholder RWER said that the routing criteria outlined in the Aquind Environmental Statement (ES) “specifically precludes the location of any offshore windfarms”.
However, it added: “While the developer of the Aquind project refers to the proposed Rampion extension site within the ES in consideration of impacts on other sea users, there has been no communication or consultation with RWER to date.”
RWER said it wanted to understand “any potential impacts” that the interconnector could have on the development, construction and operation of the wind farm.
Two other proposed projects connecting the UK and French power networks are the 160km Gridlink project between Kingsnorth and Dunkirk and the 220km Fablink project between Menuel and Exeter.
The three interconnectors would allow increased energy trading between the UK and Europe, which is seen as increasingly vital as reliance on renewable energy sources increases.
Until recently the UK shared just one interconnector with France, which was commissioned in 1986. National Grid has now completed a second link, called IFA 2, which began operating in January 2021.
In total, Ofgem has approved nine new interconnector projects, including the three new connections to France. If all nine are delivered, they will treble the UK’s connected capacity to Europe from 5GW to 15GW.
Source: New Civil Engineer