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Page last updated at 10:25 GMT, Friday, 9 July 2010 11:25 UK

Is the political tide against the Severn Barrage?

Dickon Hooper
Politics Show West

Brean Down
Labour turned the heat up on the Barrage

Plans to harness the tides in the Bristol Channel have been around since the middle of the 19th Century.

And they have been rumbling on since then.

Last year, the Labour Government shortlisted five schemes here to help Britain hit its renewable energy targets.

The most ambitious is the Severn Barrage, which would run from Brean Down in North Somerset across to Wales.

The barrage will generate 5% of the UK's electricity needs and is estimated to cost more than £20bn.

And that price tag could be the problem.

The other four schemes cost much less: between £2bn and £4bn and each providing less than 1% of our electricity.

Back in the driving seat

Locally though, the barrage has many supporters.

Peter Bryant, from the SeBaS group, said: "You cannot just cut, cut and cut. This is one [scheme] that puts us firmly back in the driving seat.

"We would probably be the envy of the world with such an ambitious project, and one that is completely conceivable and can be done - the knowledge has been their for decades."

Questions though are being raised about whether, in the words of one politician I spoke to, the tide is turning against the barrage.

The mood music, they said, seems to be against it. And there is some political history here too.

Plans sank

Last year, the Liberal Democrats sank plans for the barrage at their party conference on environmental grounds, adding it would take too long to come on-line.

Their man Chris Huhne now runs the department in charge of making the decision.

And then, across the water from Brean Down, sits Hinkley Point.

It could be the first on-line of a new generation of nuclear power stations: carbon neutral and with no planned public subsidy.

While the barrage flounders, consultation and plans for Hinkley press on.

The government will not say when it will make a final decision on the Severn tidal area.

But it will not commit outright to any of the schemes being considered either.

Peter Bryant, SeBaS
Supporters of the scheme argue the know-how is already in place

Nia Griffith, the Labour MP for Llanelli, recently asked this in the House:

"Will the Minister reaffirm the commitment by his government to the Severn estuary tidal project to make genuine use of the tidal power there?

"Can he give a progress statement on the consultation to date?"

The response, from DECC Minister Gregory Barker: "I understand the Honourable Lady's interest in this potentially important project.

"Ministers are currently considering the evidence from the two-year cross-government Severn tidal power feasibility study with a view to deciding whether the Government can support a tidal power scheme on the Severn estuary, and if so, on what terms.

"I cannot say anything today, but we expect to make an announcement shortly."

The suggestion is that no announcement will be made until after the summer.

The government may do well though to heed the words of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer: time and tide wait for no man.



SEE ALSO
'No plans' to drop barrage scheme
30 Oct 09 |  Wales


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