Urgent assurances have today been called for over how controversial plans to store tons of natural gas under the Wyre countryside will be decided.
A result is expected soon on a bid by Halite Energy Group to store 900 million cubic metres of natural gas in salt caverns under the River Wyre at Preesall.
That decision will be made by Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), headed by newly appointed Secretary of State, Amber Rudd.
However, DECC now says that decision is no longer part of Ms Rudd’s brief, a situation which coincides with the revelation that the minister’s brother, PR man and lobbyist Roland Rudd, is head of lobbying company Finsbury which represents Halite.
DECC has not revealed exactly who will now head up the decision on Halite, leading for calls for the department to come clean over how it will make the decision.
Campaigners in Fleetwood and Wyre, including the port’s MP Cat Smith, are seeking urgent assurances about how the gas bid, which has been on the table for more than a decade, will be determined.
Ms 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 tasked with making the final planning decision 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 predecessor, 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.”
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 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.”
A spokesman for Halite Energy said: “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.”
Protesters initially thought the proposals had finally been abandoned when the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) refused the Halite scheme in 2013, citing geological and safety concerns.
But in January last year the energy firm, which says the project will provide up to 300 construction jobs and 45 operational posts, won a decision to force DECC to look again.
Halite spent much of 2014 presenting new data to the DECC to persuade it that those geological concerns have been dealt with.