Aquind in Portsmouth: Why judges at the Royal Courts of Justice must turn down bid to resurrect interconnector scheme

Just over a year ago, during a public consultation process into the interconnector scheme which would see large swathes of Portsmouth dug up for several years to lay cables, we requested that the then business secretary Kwasi Kwrteng turn down the scheme.

The News wrote an open letter to Mr Kwarteng explaining why we – and thousands of people across Portsmouth – were opposed to the plan. Our voice joined those of the city council and Portsmouth’s MPs in articulating that we did not need the disruption to our city, but also that we had grave concerns about the background of Aquind and its directors and their lobbying of government.

Main entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, London where the Aquind judicial review will take place Picture: Marco Rubino, Adobe

There were also fears that increasing our dependence on shipping electricity from France – as the interconnector would do – would lead to the threat of ‘political weaponisation’ of energy. As well as a major inconvenience on a practical level, it would also be a strategic policy error.

This case will not overturn Mr Kwarteng’s decision – the review is not into what he decided but how he decided it. If the judges turn it down, we hope this will be the final nail in the coffin for Aquind’s plans. If they agree with Aquind’s case, the whole process must start again.

Viola Langley from the Let’s Stop Aquind campaign group said: ‘The issue has once again become a hot topic in the city. Given the strategic significance of the interconnector project and the energy security crisis, questions are part of a legitimate public debate.

‘However, outlets such as Reuters and The News have all come under legal challenge regarding commentary around Aquind, demonstrating the chilling effects of legal threats on free speech in our democracy.’

Portsmouth City Council’s leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson has today highlighted the unity of opposition in our city, saying: ‘Different people have done different things over this campaign and one thing that has worked well is that people have worked together. We have worked across the parties. Penny Mordaunt has campaigned within government. Stephen Morgan has campaigned from the opposition side. And we’re a Lib Dem council and we’re paying for the lawyers.

‘We have found £250,000 for specialist lawyers and specialist planning consultants.

‘Everybody has done their bit. Without everyone working together we wouldn’t have been so successful.’

The News has covered the Aquind saga for five years now, from the first appearance of the plans – at which point, without any detail given, seemed innocuous – to regular protests across the city. We have been sent legal letters on a regular basis by Aquind’s lawyers, threatening action over matters demonstrably within the public interest.

We will be covering the judicial review today and tomorrow as we continue to shine a light on these proposals. And we will be unapologetic about joining the chorus of voices from Portsmouth urging the judges to just say no.

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