The UK government's new trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling has revealed in a newspaper interview that he hopes to amend planning regulations to make the construction of gas storage sites easier.
<p>Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Darling said the government intends to push through alterations to planning laws that could kick-start the construction of up to ten new gas storage sites.<br /><br />The sites are seen as essential as the UK battles to prepare for what is likely to prove another winter of tight gas supplies in 2006-7. Britain's acute lack of storage capacity was graphically illustrated over the most recent winter period when a fire closed the Rough storage platform in the North Sea. This sent wholesale gas prices on the UK spot market surging to unprecedented levels and sparked fears of supply interruptions to industrial users.<br /><br />In his new brief, Mr Darling will be keen to ensure that the energy debate moves forward in a less feverish climate. In his interview with the Financial Times, the former transport secretary was non-committal about building new nuclear power plants in the UK, for example, pointing to the opaque economics of the nuclear industry.<br /><br />Mr Darling is widely seen as a key ally to chancellor Gordon Brown, and has been tipped to take Mr Brown's role when the latter finally vacates 11 Downing Street. In his previous post, he was effectively charged with bringing some order back to the railway industry following a spate of safety crises and an increasing burden of public subsidy in a supposedly 'privatized' business – both of which were proving something of an embarrassment to government.<br /><br />There may be parallels here with the energy sector, which has made the headlines with alarming regularity over recent months amid allegations of European protectionism, fears over supply security and the nuclear question. Mr Darling is unlikely to sanction a green light on new nuclear unless the decision passes some very stringent cost-benefit tests.</p>