Hain says Barrage decision a 'disaster'

Monday 18 October 2010, 11:13

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Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain has reacted angrily to the news that the coalition government is planning to ditch plans for a £30 billion barrage across the Severn estuary.

Written by James McLaren

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is expected to kick the scheme for renewable energy into the long grass as it not finanically viable.

Mr Hain is taking a wide view of the issue, pointing to the fact that a barrage would have produced to up 5% of the UK's energy, going some way towards achieving the planned 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050, but some take a more local view, pointing to the potential harm to the ecosystem of the estuary, which has the second largest tidal range in the world.

They believe that the delicate balance of the estuary would be compromised by the barrage. Up to 65,000 birds use the estuary for winter feeding grounds.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), have welcomed the news. Martin Harper, head of sustainable development at the RSPB, said: "Climate change threatens an environmental catastrophe for humans and wildlife. Harnessing the huge tidal power of the Severn has to be right, but it cannot be right to trash the natural environment in the process.

"A barrage like the one proposed between Cardiff and Weston-super-Mare would not only destroy huge areas of estuary marsh and mudflats used by 69,000 birds each winter and block the migration routes of countless fish, but, as confirmed by this report, it would dramatically increase risk of flooding to residential properties.

"The government study needed to demonstrate that a big barrage could form a cost effective part of a radical plan to tackle climate change. It is clear today that a barrage does not make economic sense.

"It's a great shame that we have been fixated on outdated environmentally destructive technology. We have consistently called for investment in more innovative and potentially less destructive schemes on the Severn which take environmental considerations into account in their design.

"The government has signalled it will be prepared to review this decision if the strategic context changes. We now want the government to announce that only truly sustainable solutions which respect the estuary, its people and its wildlife will be considered in the future.

"Such an announcement would provide a clear signal to the engineering community and provide some much-needed incentives for the development of these technologies for use not just in the Severn but also in estuaries around the UK and elsewhere.

"It would also mean that if the situation changes and this or a future government decides to reopen the debate about how to harness tidal power from the Severn, then it will not have to rely on outdated, environmentally destructive technologies.

"The UK could and should be a world leader in sustainable tidal power if the investment and the will could be found."

Peter Hain points to the wider considerations of scrapping the scheme: "This is a decision that is equally disastrous for the Welsh economy and our environment.

"Not only is Chris Huhne turning his back on the proposed barrage scheme that would have created hundreds of good quality green jobs for Welsh people, it appears that he decided to abandon in its entirety the idea of using the Severn Estuary as a generator of electricity.

He said the UK government had "decided to shift their attention, but minimal funding" to technologies which "may not deliver a single kilowatt of clean energy in the foreseeable future".

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