Extra research needed into Severn barrage – green lobbyists

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has called for further research into a £30bn tidal barrage plan on the River Severn after it emerged that the Government are reconsidering the scheme.

The plans for a barrage across the Severn estuary from the Vale of Glamorgan to Somerset, were first tabled by ex-shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain two years ago. However, the plans were turned down by the former Energy and Climate Change secretary Chris Hume on the grounds that the project was too costly.

According to the BBC and the Financial Times, Peter Hain, who has since given up his position as shadow Welsh Secretary in order to campaign for the tidal barrage, met with David Cameron last month.

He told BBC Wales it was a “more productive meeting than might have been expected” and that “number 10 are taking the message much more seriously than has been the case over the last few years.”

Advocates for the barrage say it will generate 20,000 jobs during construction and 30,000 in the long term. It is claimed that it will provide 5% of the UK’s electricity.

While the WWF is pleased in principle that the government is looking into renewable energy, it has urged officials to carry out more extensive research.

Policy Officer at WWF Cymru, Alun James, said: “On this latest barrage plan, our message to Government and the developers is clear – establish the facts and show us the evidence. We’re pleased that the Government is looking at renewable energy projects as an alternative to new fossil or nuclear power stations, but in the case of the Severn barrage, we want to see a lot more research carried out.”

Green campaigners have claimed that the scheme will have a negative impact on local wildlife arguing that alterations to tidal patterns could damage habitats and fish could be caught in the turbines.

Developers say that updates to the proposals include new ‘fish-friendly’ turbines although Mr Hain admitted that there were lingering concerns over the impact to local wildlife.

The WWF claims that there were large uncertainties and gaps in the Government’s original study into the scheme. It has called for investigation into how the barrage would affect the ecology of the estuary and how it would affect water levels and flood risk.

Mr James said: “There is a lot of work to be done – on the technology and on its impact on the local environment. For example, the knowledge on fish movements in the Estuary is still inadequate. The Government and consortium must be completely open on the new proposal and must disclose all research plans and findings. Low head turbines may well solve some of the environmental concerns but it is essential that their impact be fully assessed.

“As we showed in our Positive Energy report, we support a major shift to renewables so that we can have an affordable, reliable energy supply as well as a healthy environment. However, if Severn tidal energy is to play its part, much more research is needed on the environmental impacts as well as on the different ways in which the power of the Severn could be harnessed.”

Conor McGlone

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