Severn Barrage debate takes off in Lords

Will this be the year that the long-discussed Severn barrage finally gets the go-ahead?

Er, possibly not, if question time in the Lords today is any guide. Energy Minister Lady Verma made clear the government's frustration with the lack of detail put forward by the Hafren Power consortium behind the project.

She told peers: "Until we get some much more detailed to the plans it will be very difficult for us to make a decision."

Hafren Power says its scheme - between Lavernock Point and Somerset - would generate 5 per cent of the UK's energy needs and could be privately financed.

The scheme would require a new law before it could happen and in a foretaste of debates to come the scheme's supporters and opponents made their points.

Labour's Lord Anderson of Swansea said there was considerable support for the project in Wales and it would be a tragedy if the government didn't look seriously at the project.

But Conservative former Welsh Secretary Lord Crickhowell said the proposals were "at the most rudimentary stage" and the only really positive feature was that former Welsh Development Agency chairman Lord Rowe-Beddoe was a non-executive director.

Former Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley said the scheme would give the Welsh economy a much-needed kickstart and asked for an assurance that it would get the go-ahead if environmental issues could be resolved.

But ex- Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Lord German said the scheme came with enormous costs to the environment and was a Bristol Channel barrage than a Severn estuary one. He wanted to know the costs to energy consumers of these proposals compared to other forms of low carbon energy.

Lady Verma said that without more detail from the Hafren Power consortium ministers could not make an assessment on the impact to consumers.

Former Labour MP Lord Howarth called for a quick decision on "a free gift of an enormous increase in renewable energy in Britain".

Lady Verma said the consortium would no doubt be looking for subsidies on the energy generated by the barrage. Supporters of the scheme say a decision is needed this year, but it was clear at question time that ministers are a long way from a position where the scheme will get the green light.