Severn Barrage: Environment and economy benefits 'unproven'

MPs said Hafren Power had failed to make the case that the barrage would be good for the economy or the environment

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Plans for a £25bn barrage in the Severn Estuary should not go ahead in their current form, a committee of MPs says.

Hafren Power wants to build an 11-mile barrage between Lavernock Point near Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, and Brean near Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

But MPs said Hafren had failed to make the case that it would be good for the economy or the environment.

The firm responded by calling the MPs' verdict "unhelpful and frustrating", adding the company had more work to do.

Start Quote

The report is unhelpful and frustrating - we all know we have a lot more work to do and we will do it”

End Quote Tony Prior Hafren Power chief executive

In a report, the House of Commons' Energy and Climate Change Committee criticises a "lack of information and a perceived lack of transparency" about the proposal.

The case for the barrage is "unproven" and Hafren Power "has yet to provide robust and independently verified evidence of the economic, environmental and technological viability of the project", the report says.

MPs were warned about the potential of job losses in nearby ports, and concluded the scheme is no "knight in shining armour" to meet renewable energy targets.

However supporters of the scheme argue the tidal barrage could generate 5% of the UK's electricity.

Conservation groups have also warned about the impact on the local environment and on wildlife habitats - concerns that the company had "failed to overcome", the report says.

'More detail'

Hafren Power say today's report is "frustrating" and "unhelpful" but it is not surprising.

The MPs' report is based largely on three evidence sessions that made uncomfortable viewing for barrage supporters.

The company failed to convince MPs of the viability of the project in three key areas - financial, environmental and acceptability to the public. Its timetable for a new law to pave the way for a barrage was "completely unrealistic".

Hafren Power had previously accepted that a negative report would effectively kill off the project as it would be harder to secure the £25bn of private investment needed.

Today, it says it will continue to work to address the MPs' concerns. Former cabinet minister Peter Hain says the ball is now in the government's court and unless ministers take the lead the project is "going nowhere".

But the report will make it harder for Hafren Power to convince ministers who were already sceptical about what they saw as a lack of detail in the company's scheme.

The idea of a barrage across the Severn Estuary has been debated since 1849. That debate will go on but many will conclude that Hafren Power's current proposal is dead in the water.

The committee says the UK government should remain open to considering a project in the Severn but "far more detail and evidence" would be required to make an informed decision about Hafren Power's proposal.

Committee chairman Tim Yeo said: "We think the effects on wildlife could be very damaging.

"There is a lot of evidence to suggest that these impacts will be very, very hard to alleviate."

He told BBC Radio Wales: "The report does acknowledge that there is the potential to generate energy here.

"Indeed, we suggest that it might be worth exploring a smaller scheme initially where the impact would be less dramatic."

Mr Yeo added that the committee was not convinced there was a strong economic case for the barrage, and said "far more detail and evidence" was needed before the project could be regarded as environmentally acceptable.

Hafren Power chief executive Tony Prior said: "The report is unhelpful and frustrating - we all know we have a lot more work to do and we will do it.

"The government has already told us it is not against the barrage and we are determined to press ministers and officials to engage fully."

He told BBC Radio Wales: "We have a team of experts, consultants and engineers... to discuss how we can provide the correct mitigation for the impact the barrier will have."

Barrage supporters include former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, who stood down from the shadow cabinet to make the case for the barrage which would be privately financed under the company's plans.

He said: "The ball is now firmly in the government's court. The plans are in place, the £25 billion from private investors is on standby but won't be around forever.

"The truth is this incredibly important project - promising 50,000 jobs to build the biggest ever clean green energy supply - can only succeed if the government want it to.

"They can't sit on the fence any longer. I have spent the past year trying to persuade the Government to make a decision. It's high time they did so."

The Bristol Port Company (BPC) welcomed the report, saying MPs had "killed off" the barrage.

The firm told the committee that the barrage would be bad for businesses because it would lose about two metres of depth of water, restricting its capacity for deep-sea vessels.

BPC chief executive Simon Bird 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."

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust, which opposed the barrage, said: "Anglers from Swansea to Shrewsbury will be celebrating that many of the 83 species of marine and migratory fish in the Severn estuary have been saved from having to pass back and forth through 1,000 turbines on every ebb and flow of the tide."

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said it was pleased MPs had listened to its concerns about replacing any habitats destroyed in the building of a barrage.

Ben Underwood, CLA Wales director, said: "The need to provide in excess of 9,000 hectares of new habitat would have led to compulsory acquisition of land on an unprecedented scale with no guarantee that the replacement habitat could ever be as good as what was lost."

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