Protesters slam Government over gas storage go-ahead

Campaigners have slammed the Government for allowing gas storage to go ahead underneath Over Wyre – despite tens of thousands of objections, opposition from local authorities, and three previous rejections by the Government.

Preesall site where Halite - formally Canatxx - plan to build the gas storage plant  / view gas storage Over Wyre
Preesall site where Halite - formally Canatxx - plan to build the gas storage plant / view gas storage Over Wyre

Energy Minister Lord Bourne has granted planning consent for the Preesall Underground Gas Storage Facility project.

The scheme, proposed by Halite, will see 900 million cubic metres of gas stored in 19 salt caverns under the River Wyre.

Lord Bourne made his announcement after Halite – previously Cannatxx – forced a judicial review into the Government’s third rejection of the hugely-unpopular scheme. The scheme could still have been refused, but the Government granted it permission.

The news of Halite’s success has been greeted with shock and dismay across Wyre.

June Jackson, a Stalmine farmer who has been fighting against gas storage since the earlier plans were first mooted – some 12 years ago – said: “This has come as a big shock.

“The reasoning behind the Government’s decision, that it will create just 40 permanent jobs, is unbelievable.

“It is so unreasonable after all the hard work that people have put in, people like Ian Mulroy and Howard Phillips of Protect Wyre who have done geological studies, and the thousands who sent off letters.”

Mrs Jackson also raised fears that Halite will now instigate compulsory purchase moves to allow pipe work across huge swathes of land.

She added: “Halite has already stated it won’t be responsible for the actual construction work, so who will be?

“It can only be hoped it is a company with proper experience.”

Fleetwood MP Cat Smith said: “I’m hugely disappointed at this decision.

“For many years this has rumbled on, and we’ve seen MPs and councils of all political parties working together on this and sharing concerns.

“I’ll continue to work with Wyre and Lancashire County councils to make sure matters including geology and jobs are handled right. It’s a shock”

Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Council, said: “I’m very disappointed by this news.

“I can’t believe the minister responsible would ignore such strong local feelings about this issue.

“We will be looking to raise concerns through our MPs, because they have all opposed it.

“I will also talk to planners to see if there is anything else that can be done.

“It has gone against what everyone in this area wanted.”

Coun Ruth Duffy, leader of Wyre’s Labour Group, said: “It is very disappointing that this Tory Government has granted gas storage, I’m aghast at this decision.

“What shocks me is that concerns about the safety of this scheme have been clearly raised at more than one public inquiry.

“If anything were to go wrong it could be catastrophic - we have an urban population right next to this thing.

“They have tried to dump fracking on us, now this.

“It is yet another example of the South dumping on the North.”

Margaret Daniels, of Fleetwood Civic Society, part of the Protect Wyre umbrella group, said: “The Government knows the strength of feeling locally, yet this scheme has still been allowed.

“It is very disappointing.”

But a delighted Keith Budinger, chief executive of Halite Energy said: “Today’s decision is the culmination of more than four years of detailed work to demonstrate that this facility can be built and operated safely.

“We look forward to working with the local community to ensure that the people and businesses of Lancashire benefit from our project.

“We are currently reviewing the detail of the Development Consent Order and have no further comment at this stage.”

The facility is proposed to be constructed on the east side of the Wyre Estuary at Preesall in Lancashire and will be used to store and extract gas from local underground salt caverns.

The project may create up to 300 jobs during construction and up to 40 permanent jobs once operational.

Preesall would be a demand response facility, with gas entering the national system in response to market conditions.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Lord Bourne, the Minister responsible for energy planning consents, said: “Investment in new energy infrastructure is essential if we are to keep the lights on and bills down.

“This is a major project which will benefit the local economy by creating jobs and stimulating businesses.

“Gas is also the greenest fossil fuel and helps us lower our carbon emissions, which is important in the UK’s move to a cleaner energy future.”

In making the decision, staff at the Department of Energy and Climate Change took into account an assessment by Senergy, an independent geological assessor, which suggested that the development was suitable for the local geology.

Lancashire County Coun Vivien Taylor, who represents Wyreside, said: “On behalf of the residents of Preesall and Knott End I am absolutely devastated by this decision.

“We’ve worked long and hard over 10 long years to make someone see sense that the geology in this area is totally unsuitable for this plan.

“After being turned down four times at planning stage you’d have thought someone would have got the idea that it isn’t suitable. I went to Brussels and feel I’ll have to go again to highlight this a European Site of Special Interest is going to be destroyed.

“I can’t believe it. I am angry on behalf of the people I represent. It will affect an awful lot of people.

“I’ve not met anybody who is for it. Public opinion counts for nothing. I feel like we have been betrayed.

“It is such a catastrophic decision that will have lifelong impact and consequences for all our residents and future generations.”