The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is under growing pressure to “urgently come clean” over its decision-making process concerning a vast underground gas storage facility in Lancashire, which has been subject to a 12-year planning dispute.
As Secretary of State, the newly appointed Amber Rudd was expected to make a final ruling on the bitterly disputed planning application by a gas storage company, the Halite Energy Group.
The £660m project, which would become the UK’s largest on-shore gas storage site, is intending to store millions of cubic metres of natural gas underground. Halite Energy said the scheme represents a “significant boost” to the UK’s ability to store gas, adding 20 per cent capacity to the system.
But there has been vehement opposition to the project for years, with local people worried about the risks of an explosion. They argue it is a “disaster waiting to happen”. The local Conservative MP, Ben Wallace, has expressed anger that the company “does not seem to have any regard for the local community”.
After more than a decade of legal wrangling, the application is currently being redetermined by the DECC, which is headed by Ms Rudd. But now the DECC, which has said for months that a final decision rests with the Secretary of State, has changed its public position, saying it is not part of her brief.
Ms Rudd will “not take a view on this case”, a senior media officer at the DECC, told the IoS on Friday. The officer said a decision would be made by “someone else in the department”. When asked who will decide, the senior spokesperson said: “I don’t need to go into that.”
Halite Energy is represented by Finsbury, the lobbying company headed by Ms Rudd’s brother, Roland Rudd, a veteran spin doctor, although the DECC said she has declared all relevant interests and denied she has recused herself on account of a potential conflict.
“The DECC must urgently come clean about its decision-making processes,” argued the Green MP Caroline Lucas. “Ministers make key decisions about our energy supply and we need to know whether the Secretary of State will be ruling on controversial schemes like this, especially when they involve her brother’s lobbying company.
“We also need both a robust system for putting conflicts of interest on the public record, and alternative and transparent decision-making structures so we can all be confident choices are being made objectively.”
Finsbury dismissed these concerns outright. “Roland does not discuss energy sector clients of Finsbury with Amber and has certainly never discussed Halite Energy Group with anyone in the department,” said spokesman John Gray. “Roland has no involvement whatsoever with the Halite Energy Group account.”
Sam Kay of No Dash for Gas, which is holding its annual protest camp against the Government’s energy policies next weekend, added: “Amber Rudd is part of a government and party which has a culture of ignoring public opinion and shoring up private interests in the energy and other industries.”
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