MULTI-MILLION pound plans for a major natural gas facility on Portland would make the island a key gas supplier for the UK.

Portland Gas Storage Limited wants to create 14 underground chambers deep beneath Osprey Quay capable of storing 1,000 million cubic metres of natural gas.

If the ambitious scheme is approved it would serve all demand in Dorset, Poole and Bournemouth - and five per cent of the UK's total needs.

Portland Gas, led by MD Andrew Hindle, delivered six inter-related planning applications for the £350 million project back in March.

A separate application has gone to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform for the construction of a new 23-mile gas pipeline. The pipeline would link the new Portland facility to the National Grid at Mappowder.

Portland Gas says storing gas - not importing it - is crucial to the future security of supply and keeping the price of gas stable.

The UK is the world's third-largest consumer of gas after the USA and Russia but North Sea gas production - which for years has supplied our needs - is in rapid decline.

Gas is now regularly imported but it is feared relying on supplies from Norway, Russia and Algeria leaves the country vulnerable.

Mr Hindle, speaking when the initial planning applications were submitted, said: "It's in the national interest that we create more gas storage to ensure security of supply and lower bills for homes and businesses."

Currently the storage capacity in the UK is around four billion cubic metres - which would last just 14 days in the event of a supply disruption.

Portland Gas estimates that if all proposed gas storage projects do go ahead - including the Portland facility - that volume would increase to around 10bn cubic metres.

It says the new underground facility, if it gets the go-ahead, would supply five per cent of the United Kingdom's total gas demand.

The plans would serve all demand in Dorset, Poole and Bournemouth, 64 per cent of demand in Exeter and east Devon and 37 per cent of demand in Southampton and west Hampshire.

A 62-page report looking at the issue of need for the Portland development is going before Dorset County Council planners on Friday.

The package involves proposals in North Dorset, West Dorset and Weymouth and Portland but the district and borough councils have given the county council delegated authority to deal with them.

The huge storage caverns would be formed in salt beds in the Sherwood Sandstones by injecting seawater to dissolve the mineral salt.

Gas would be taken from Mappowder via the pipeline - including a five-mile offshore section across Weymouth bay - and stored on Portland and returned as required by users.

A proposal also exists for a separate brine pipeline to run alongside the main pipeline from Portland to West Stafford.

The 11-mile glass-reinforced plastic pipeline would carry a more diluted form of brine, providing a 'cushion' to maintain internal pressures. Other developments associated with the proposed facility include a brine wellsite in open farmland at West Stafford, temporary pipe storage areas at Mappowder and Broadmayne, and a block valve station at Osmington.

Storage in salt caverns is long established, with the first facilities becoming operational in the early 1960s and around 60 currently operational around the world.

County council planners are likely to need assurances the pipeline would not damage parts of the Heritage Coast and archaeological sites along the 23-mile route.