by Martin Shipton, Western Mail
Campaigners who raised safety concerns about the delivery of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) through Milford Haven have claimed vindication after a European Court decided to put a series of questions to the UK Government.
A long-running row over bringing large LNG ships into the Pembrokeshire port focused on the possibility of a gas explosion, but courts ruled that all safety measures had been complied with. The first ship docked in Milford Haven earlier this year.
Now the European Court of Human Rights has asked the UK government to clarify certain key points relating to LNG safety.
The UK Government has been asked to explain who was responsible for assessing all risks posed by the LNG terminals, including marine risks, and what risk assessments were done and were made public and when.
In addition, the court has asked if the relevant UK authorities “in particular, have properly assessed the risk and consequences of a collision of LNG vessels or other escape of LNG from a vessel in Milford Haven harbour or while berthed at the jetty”.
The campaign group Safe Haven has alleged that adequate assessments of the LNG risks were not undertaken and that those risks were therefore not made known to either the planners or the residents of the towns around the haven.
This case was argued through the UK courts by Safe Haven members Alison Hardy and Rodney Maile. The UK courts said planning authorities had not acted unlawfully in taking Milford Haven Port Authority’s claim at face value that it had adequately assessed the risks, and in any event, Safe Haven was too late in raising concerns.
The court reached that decision despite the applicants alleging that the Port Authority stood to gain financially from the LNG operation.
Objectors also argued that the siting of the LNG jetty at South Hook appears to breach international guidelines, former pilots had serious safety concerns and planners and public had not seen the assessments and could not be sure that adequate assessments actually existed.
The UK courts further decided that there was no need to force the publication of the actual assessments on which the authorities relied.
Dr Tony Cox, an independent risk consultant with LNG experience and experience advising both the UK and the European authorities on major hazards, has analysed the port authority’s work and has said that it cannot be seen as a proper assessment of the LNG risks.
Safe Haven claims the UK court rulings do not answer the pressing, practical question of whether
adequate assessments were actually undertaken by the Port Authority and whether planners could rely on those assessments in reality, having never seen them and not being certain that adequate assessments actually existed.
Safe Haven says it is delighted that the European Court has asked the UK Government to respond to the substance of the complaints by mid-February 2010.
Richard Buxton, the solicitor who has piloted the case, said: “Although the European Court has not yet given the go-ahead for a hearing, this is an important indication that at a human rights level all may not have been well with the way the domestic courts dealt with safety concerns and disclosure of information about a matter which had and continues to have the potential to be devastating for a large number of innocent people if there were an accident.”
Safe Haven spokesman Gordon Main said: “This is an important step towards proper LNG risk assessments being undertaken in Milford Haven.”
A spokesman for Milford Haven Port Authority, which was responsible for assessing the risks, said: “If we are asked for specific information, we will, of course, provide it.”