Aquind Ltd v Secretary of State for BEIS; reflections from campaigners who were at the High Court hearing 22-23 November 2022

Stop Aquind campaigners were ecstatic in January when the then Secretary of State turned down Aquind Limited’s application for a Development Consent Order. The project they proposed would have been hugely damaging to our city and beyond, so we were full of trepidation when Aquind launched a judicial review to overturn that decision. Now we are in limbo, anxiously waiting.

Here are reflections from some of us who were at the High Court last week:

It was a fascinating experience, being inside the High Court where the future of our city was to be decided, and Mrs Justice Lieven was impressive. I had expected the judge to be poker-faced but her body language spoke volumes; it was a conversation with the barristers on both sides and she did not shy away from showing her irritation when seeking clarity from the mountain of dense documentation. The case for overturning the Secretary of State’s decision appeared to be tenuous. I do hope Mrs Justice Lieven thinks so too, for the sake of our city and all along the proposed route up to Lovedean.

Thanks again to The News, whose intrepid reporter Richard Lemmer sat through the whole of the two-day hearing and did us proud again with his coverage. It will be an anxious wait now until we know the outcome. – Jan Dennis

The hearing took place on 22nd and 23rd November; a group of us were there in the High Court and gathered outside. Our peaceful protest outside the courts attracted a lot of positive interest from passers by. We also had the opportunity to observe court proceedings from the public gallery. There was a lot of focus in court on ‘temporary’ disruption in Portsmouth if the scheme were to be approved. Disruption will be permanent though, particularly relating to environmental damage.

Exchanges were edgy. Mrs Justice Lieven was determined to seek clarity. At one point she said she was ‘genuinely confused’ by the complex evidence and also ‘terribly frustrated with everyone in this case.’ We are hopeful that the Secretary of State’s decision will not be overturned. – Janet Sampson

I entered the courtroom and sat down directly behind the eight lawyers working for Aquind. Most of them turned round and looked at me. I stared back convincing myself that I was as important as them and had as much right to be here as they have.

I made myself comfortable, glancing at the clock, there was still some time to go. The Lawyer representing Aquind had his back to me, his white wig, the black gown, the large file in front of him and the post it notes all poking out in abundance, hammered home the gravity of this hearing.

My eyes then fixed on the judge, observing her every move, her expression, her body language, her sighs, agitated replies, trying to read her mind and for a brief moment we locked eyes, I was hoping she could read my mind. Please don’t ‘overrule’ the decision made by the Secretary of State in January, there is too much at stake, our city will be disrupted, our sacred areas of biodiversity will be disturbed so much so that they may never recover. I kept thinking about our protest group and how sincere we all were, how collectively we had fought for over two years against this project that would not benefit our city at all. How much longer will we be fighting?

The Judge finally said she will make her decision before Christmas.

The one moment that stood out after the hearing, was how silent all the lawyers were, not a word between them, collecting their laptops, coats, notebooks, they all appeared somewhat disappointed. This gave me a slight sense of confidence that the judge would do the right thing and stand by the original decision to object to Aquind, after all. Our city of Portsmouth does not want or need it. – Paula Ann Savage

It was very frustrating that the process was closed; in fact it was only open to bodies that could take on the huge costs of representation, consequently environmental groups from the affected area had no direct input into the debate or evidence.

The key decision that the harms of the project outweigh the benefits was “brushed under the carpet” in favour of dry legal argument – for example the consequences of the project for the city were not fully reviewed, nor was the suitability of Aquind as an applicant for the Development Consent Order.

Despite this, I heard no overwhelming evidence from the applicant that the Secretary of State’s decision should be changed or reviewed, and Mrs Justice Lieven seemed perplexed by the quality of the original case for the route and the evidence presented to her in court. – Jonty Walker

It was my first visit to the Royal Courts of Justice. I am proud of Let’s Stop Aquind’s achievements. Nevertheless, I feel worried and anxious about the court case and its outcome.

We have been highlighting the controversial issues of the Aquind Interconnector for a long time and found ourselves now at the High Court. I felt frustrated that we were not able to participate as an interested party because we did not have the financial backing.

During the court case hearing it became obvious that there are still so many unresolved issues and even the judge found this case bewildering and “mysterious”.

My hope is that the judge will make the right decision. Our position here in Portsmouth remains unchanged – Let’s Stop Aquind. – Viola Langley

I was in the court on Wednesday (23.11.22) and noticed the importance of each specific word. The judge suggested that because the former Secretary of State, Kwasi Kwarteng, had not mentioned that he disagreed with something, that he had therefore expressed his agreement by default. I also noticed how the judge seemed to think that the negative environmental effects ‘only’ being temporary (they are not) meant they were less significant than the things to be gained.
It was a very interesting experience and I feel hopeful that the decision will not be overturned.
Eve Mellor Age 16

I felt somewhat overwhelmed in Court 46 at The Royal Courts where bewigged barristers were addressing Mrs Justice Lieven (the judge) using language seemingly designed to confuse. The matter under scrutiny was submerged beneath a continuous stream of references to documents to which the public had no access. I focussed on the judge whose body language indicated bewilderment and incomprehension, somewhat akin to my own emotions.

Aquind’s barrister ploughed through their deposition, encouraging everyone to sympathise with the injustice done to them by BEIS. However, in my opinion, for every point they thought they scored, the judge seemed indifferent to their pleas.
In short, we have to hope that justice will be done – that bewilderment will lead to enlightenment – that Aquind will be STOPPED once and for all. – David Langley

In the past I have attended a few hearings of high-profile cases at the Royal Courts of Justice. However, this time was special, not just because of its scope – five (!!!) barristers and over a dozen lawyers representing all the parties. I was deeply touched because the future of my city, our nature, and our people will be decided as a result of the two-day hearing. I sincerely hope that Mrs Justice Lieven will consider the pros and cons of this case and will NOT overrule the decision made by Secretary of State. – Mary Seleznova

Stop Aquind.

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