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Saturday 17 February 2018
17 February 2018 - NEWS UPDATE
Renewable Energy

Prime Minister orders review of Severn Barrage proposal

David Cameron has asked ministers to review a proposal for a £30bn project to build a giant tidal barrage across the Severn Estuary, which would create more than 20,000 jobs and boost the country's renewable energy supply. The scheme is being promoted by Peter Hain, the veteran Labour MP, who stood down as Shadow Welsh Secretary earlier this year to lobby for the development.

Mr Hain claims the 18km-long dam could produce more than 5 per cent of the country's electricity, the equivalent to three nuclear power plants, and would last for more than a century.

Following a meeting with Mr Hain last month, the prime minister has now asked Oliver Letwin, his policy chief, and Ed Davey, energy secretary, to further research the idea – although the plans have drawn criticism from conservationists.

An earlier plan for a Severn barrage plan was rejected two years ago by Chris Huhne, the former energy secretary, because it would have involved a significant injection of taxpayer funds.

After a two-year study, the Government concluded it did not see a strategic case for public investment in the tidal energy scheme, but wished to keep the option open for future consideration.

The decision was taken in the context of wider climate and energy goals, including consideration of the relative costs, benefits and impacts of a Severn tidal power scheme, as compared to other options for generating low-carbon electricity, but it did not preclude a privately financed scheme coming forward.

But in a meeting on July 30, Mr Cameron was apparently enthused by the fact that the latest proposal under Corlan Hafren, a consortium of engineering and construction companies, does not involve any public money.

He was also said to be struck by the argument that it would help mitigate future damage to homes and businesses that lie on the River Severn floodplain, given that compensation for the 2007 Gloucestershire flooding cost the Environment Agency £3.2bn.

"I was encouraged by the prime minister's attention to detail around the scheme," Mr Hain said later. "He was clearly very interested in it."

According to Mr Hain, a number of sovereign wealth funds have already come forward to finance the project, on the understanding that the government signals support in principle and provides authorisation in the form of a hybrid bill before parliament.

A Downing Street spokesman confirmed the meeting had taken place and said the idea would be given further thought. "The government is keen to promote a diverse range of energy supply and will consider the proposals carefully," the spokesman added.

Developers say the latest plan takes into consideration the environmental consequences of the barrage and steps would be taken to minimise damage to marine life.

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