‘No future for a Severn barrage’

Severn barragePLANS for a £35 billion Severn barrage look effectively dead in the water.

A group of MPs on an influential House of Commons select committee has concluded the case for a tidal barrage across the Severn estuary to generate electricity is as yet “unproven”.

It cannot recommend the Hafren Power scheme, describing it as “no knight in shining armour for renewables”.

There will be cheers from the Bristol Port company as the verdict should allow it to go ahead with plans for a deep container port that could create thousands of jobs.

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The committee’s conclusion follows more than six months of gathering information and hearing from experts on the economic and environmental impacts of the scheme.

In a report published today – A Severn Barrage? – MPs say that while the barrage could help tackle climate change, the Hafren Power scheme had failed to demonstrate economic, environmental and public acceptability.

Hafren Power proposed an 11-mile fixed tidal barrage between Brean and Lavernock Point.

Although construction of the barrage would be privately financed, Government support would be required for approximately 30 years.

Tim Yeo MP, committee chairman, said: “We are not convinced that the economic case for the proposed barrage is strong enough.

“The Hafren Power project in its current form has not demonstrated sufficient value as a low-carbon energy source to override local business and environmental concerns.”

The report said that industry concerns – including from Bristol Port – had not been “fully addressed”, while the impact on jobs and growth “remains unclear”.

Mr Yeo urged the Government to consider harnessing the river’s massive tidal range in a more sustainable and cost-effective way.

It remains for the Government to make a final decision following the committee’s report which is published today.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and a host of other environmental groups have welcomed the findings.

Bristol West MP Stephen Williams would like to see the Severn’s energy harnessed in a smaller-scale project.

He said: “I am very keen for us to press ahead with tapping the clean energy potential of the Severn. We must do this without damaging the Port of Bristol or the ecology of the estuary itself. A huge barrage from Brean Down to Lavernock is therefore out of the question.

“A smaller barrage, over the Shoots stones near the two bridges, would meet the bill, as would lagoons on the coast.

“We need marine scientists and engineers to agree the best option and for Government to work with the power industry to get a scheme constructed.”

Bristol North West MP Charlotte Leslie agreed and said the committee’s report seemed like a “common-sense conclusion”.

She said: “I do not think anyone is against the concept of harnessing our natural energy – that is a no brainer – but the question is always is this amount of expenditure and cost to jobs worth it?

“We definitely need to do something to harness the Severn and Bristol is a very green city. But like all these things it is easy to get starry eyed about a big icon of greenness. I am much more interested in what produces the best results.”

Simon Bird, Bristol Port’s chief executive, said: “The select committee has read through and listened to masses of evidence and come to the only sensible conclusion that the Severn Barrage brings with it unprecedented problems.

“The barrage has been killed off by MPs – again – because it is a bad idea.

“Hafren Power’s PR machine has been formidable – but as eminent physicist Richard Feynman said: ‘For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations for nature cannot be fooled.’

“Hafren Power presented a woefully-inadequate, misguided proposal and we are glad to see the back of it.”

The port has long argued that the Severn Barrage would stifle future growth and therefore damage the chances of creating thousands of new jobs in the region.

Mr Bird said the port has forged an alliance with other firms and bodies and the University of the West of England to find new ways of generating power from the Severn without “unacceptable damage to the environment and with real economic benefits”.

Meanwhile the RSPB responded to the report with a call for a new view on the generation of renewable energy from the estuary.

Peter Jones, a conservation officer with the RSPB, said: “We should now move on to consider seriously alternative ways of harnessing tidal energy without doing unacceptable harm to the habitats and wildlife that they support.”

Martin Spray, chief executive of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, said it is time to stop wasting public money.

Mark Lloyd, of the Angling Trust, said the decision would save 83 species of fish.

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It is good news that the committee has rejected the latest proposal for an enormously-expensive Severn Barrage.

“It would be a woeful deal for the country and a terrible burden on families already struggling with their energy bills.

Neath MP Peter Hain, who resigned his front-bench position in order to campaign for the barrage, said the “ball was now firmly in the Government’s court”.

He said: “The plans are in place and the £25 billion from private investors is on standby but will not be around forever.”

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