Campaigners are calling for reassurances over how Halite’s application to store gas under the River Wyre will be decided after a potential conflict of interest was highlighted.
Campaigners are worried about the fact the new minister in charge of the department determining the bid by Halite to store millions of cubic metres of natural gas in salt caverns under the River Wyre, is the sister of a lobbyist working at a firm representing Halite.
“The latest revelations about the family link between the Minister and the lobbying company working for Halite is deeply troubling.Fleetwood MP Cat Smith
A result is expected imminently on the plans by the Halite Energy Group, which have already been rejected three times in the face of huge public opposition.
That decision will be determined by Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), headed by newly-appointed Secretary of State, Amber Rudd, who was expected to make the decision.
However, DECC now says that decision is no longer part of Ms Rudd’s brief, a situation which coincides with the revelation the minister’s brother, PR man and lobbyist Roland Rudd, is head of lobbying company Finsbury, which represents Halite.
DECC says there is no conflict of interest over Ms Rudd but has not revealed exactly who will now make the decision, leading for calls for the department to come clean over the procedure.
The bid to store gas under the River Wyre has rattled on for 12 years, with Fleetwood and Wyre residents raising safety fears, while Government bodies have rejected the plans three times on issues of geological stability.
Some 10,000 residents have objected to the controversial scheme.
Cat Smith, newly-elected Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, said this week: “Like the overwhelming majority of local people I am totally opposed to gas storage under the River Wyre. Having seen local landslides I know our geology is unstable and totally unsuitable for gas storage.
“The latest revelations about the family link between the Minister and the lobbying company working for Halite is deeply troubling.
“I have written an urgent letter to the Energy Secretary calling on her to clarify the situation and have launched a campaign website where local people can add their voice to mine in calling for transparency in the decision-making process and ultimately for this scheme to be rejected.”
The MP is urging Fleetwood and Wyre residents to write to the Energy Secretary via website http://act.catsmith.co.uk/lobby/gasdecision.
Concerns have also been expressed by Ian Mulroy, chairman of campaign body Protect Wyre Group, which has vigorously opposed the gas storage plans since they were first mooted by Halite’s predeccssor, Canatxx, 12 years ago.
Mr Mulroy said: “The revelations about Finsbury representing Halite, and the relationship between Finsbury’s owner and the Secretary of State, is very concerning.
“But what is perhaps even more worrying is that we no longer know which minister is going to make that decision.
“I think DECC should be clear about how the decision will be made, and by whom.”
A DECC spokeswoman said: “What needs to be made clear is that the Halite application is one which has already been refused by DECC and the department has been asked to look at it again.
“Amber Rudd has declared her interests and they are all in the public domain.
“And this is a particular decision which will not be decided on by the Secretary of State, so there is no conflict of interest.”
Finbury has stated that Roland Rudd does not discuss energy sector clients of Finsbury with his sister and has never discussed Halite Energy Group with anyone in the department,
The firm’s spokesman John Gray also said Mr Rudd had no involvement whatsoever with the Halite Energy Group account.
A spokesman for Halite Energy added: “We have been entirely focused on addressing the few remaining planning issues under consideration, and communicating the local, regional and national economic and energy security benefits of our project. Such engagement as we have had with DECC regarding the re-determination of the Preesall consent application remains through our lawyers, as is standard practice in such matters.”