Canatxx comes head to head with critics

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CANATXX has failed to persuade Over Wyre residents of the merits of its multi-million pound gas store plans.

A packed public meeting addressed by the US company's experts heard cries of "you're fudging" and "you're dodging the questions" during a heated question and answer session.

The meeting, at St Aidan's School hall, Preesall, was called to hear Canatxx's UK boss Paul Grimes and Ian Mulroy, leader of the Protect Wyre Group, outline their positions.

It was the most rowdy public meeting in Over Wyre for about seven years - since Canatxx last ventured into the public arena in this way.

Mr Grimes described the inquiry report on which the government had based its rejection of Canatxx's first plans as "flawed."

He said Canatxx, rather than challenge the rejection at the High Court, had decided to answer all the points raised "by more depth and science and more investigations."

He told the 500-strong audience at last night's public meeting not to be fearful and that he wanted to "dispel myths."

Mr Mulroy said he was astonished to hear Mr Grimes describe the assessor's report as flawed.

Mr Mulroy said: "He is saying that until we agree with him everything we do and say is flawed."

Mr Mulroy said the report's author, the consultant geologist / assessor at the public inquiry Ms Ruth Allington, was more highly qualified that anyone on the platform, where the line-up included Dr David Evans of the British Geological Survey and Norbert Heitman, an internationally known cavern expert.

Mr Mulroy also challenged Canatxx to say why it had submitted its latest application when the results of its geological tests were not included in its submission.

He said: "The ground is unstable. We all know it and we believe Canatxx know it. If they don't, then this even scarier than we had imagined." Mr Mulroy also reminded the audience of the fatal Abbeystead explosion in the 1980s,and of other similar disaters at Buncefield and Flixborough.

He said media descriptions of Canatxx as an "energy giant" were wrong as it was a small limited company with little or no assets and that a Canatxx manager had told him the application was "simply an exercise to keep the funds flowing from investors."

For Canatxx Mr Ian Henderson, an ex-ICI Hillhouse boss said: "Fundamentally this is a good safe project. It is good salt - we know because we have researched it."

He said there was the same level of risk as standing next to a steam engine at Preston railway station. And he added that the Health and Safety Executive was constantly looking over Canatxx's shoulder.

"I have no problems assuring you that the thing will be safe and you can live with it without problems," he said.

The meeting became more lively as members of the public took the microphone.

Preesall historian Rosemary Hogarth asked why Canatxx wanted to put its control centre at Aggleby's Farm, which former landowners ICI had declared unsafe due to subsidence from previous salt extractions.

Replying to Mrs Hogarth, Mr Henderson said: "It has to be away from all the hazards."

Coun Viv Taylor of Knott End asked why some pollsters conducting a phone poll for Canatxx had claimed to represent the county, Wyre or Preesall Town Councils. She said the poll results should be declared invalid.

Mr Grimes said Canatxx did not carry out the poll and the claims made by Coun Taylor were untrue.

County Coun Bob Mutch of Knott End said there was no difference between the rejected Canatxx proposal and the new one.

Coun Mutch and Wyre mayor Coun Gordon McCann were both worried about saline solution created during Canatxx's planned drilling of the gas store pods being pumped into Morecambe Bay, and the impact on sealife. Mr Graham Reddyoff was concerned about the impact of the extra salt on pipes at Heysham nuclear power plant.

Mr Grimes said the said salty solution to be piped off Rossall would only affect an area of about 60 metres, beyond which there would be no impact.

Mrs Joy Mellor demanded a written guarantee from Mr Grimes over safety. Mr Grimes told her: "I am going to write the letter."

Mr Howard Phillips of Thornton Action Group challenged Canatxx's claims over the 'national need' argument for gas supplies.

Mr Kirk Miller of Preesall mentioned the recent controversies involving Canatxx's links with Lord Taylor of Blackburn and government minister Jack Straw.

He also said a former leading official of Wyre Council worked for Canatxx.

Mr Miller also asked Mr Grimes if he considered he had won the audience over and if it was a PR success.

Mr Grimes replied: "I do not know if it a PR success. I hope it is."

Mrs Hogarth, a former Preesall councillor, took up the issue of Canatxx's reported 80,000 payments to Lord Taylor, who has a home in Knott End.

Mrs Hogarth said: "Was it money well spent? What did you get for your money?"

Mr Grimes said Cantxx had insisted Lord Taylor declare his interest and said that everything had been "above board."

The only criticism of Mr Mulroy came from a Chorley man who queried Mr Mulroy's questionning of Canatxx's intention to employ local people.

Other speakers included Stuart Perigo of the county planning team and David Thow of Wyre planning department.

Mr Grimes, who stressed there would be 250 jobs created for local people under Canatxx's plans, said the results of the firm's test drilling were "extremely good" and would be published on the firm's website within a fortnight.

He said the results of the opinion poll had just been completed and would be available next week.

Wyre Council will decide its stance on the Canatxx plan on May 12.

The county council, which is the deciding body in this case, wiill consider the plans at a date to be fixed.

If the county reject the plans, Canatxx is thought certain to appeal, which would lead to another long-running pubic inquiry expected to cost around 500,000.

* Canatxx recently declined to reveal where the pipeline from its LNG plant in North Wales would arrive on the Over Wyre coastline. See story in this week's Courier or see this website.

* For more about Canatxx plans for the Wyre estuary see the company's website:

* For the PWG's opinions see:

* For the latest developments in the Canatxx debate see Wednesday's Garstang Courier, out noon on Wednesday, April 29.