do we need the Severn Barrage?

Lord Berkeley

Severn barrage: decarbonising shouldn’t come at any cost

As one of the few civil engineers in Parliament, I’ve long tracked the debate around attempts to harness the power of the Severn Estuary. Huge potential undoubtedly exists, but as the UK seeks to decarbonise its energy mix, projects of this nature and scale still need to be properly assessed. Parliamentarians, civil servants and the public alike need to know that this necessary policy driver will not come at any cost.

My colleague in another place, the battle hardened Rt Hon Peter Hain MP, has stepped down from the shadow cabinet to intensify publicity for Hafren Power’s proposal for a 10 mile long barrage from Cardiff to Weston-Super-Mare, and has taken to his task with vigour.

Bold claims about the scheme, such as that it will generate 50,000 jobs, employ a (yet to be prototyped) ‘fish-friendly’ turbine and adhere to environmental protection and European legislation, are easily disproved. As is the suggestion that the change in tidal range will have no effect on ship movements. The damming of the estuary will not reduce flooding (indeed, it will make the type of flooding that is an issue in the area already, fluvial and pluvial, worse because water sits on the land for longer through a process called tidal locking) and the 69,000 migratory birds cannot simply relocate to a like-for-like habitat bigger than the size of Bermuda.

Headline grabbing statements such as those above, whilst appealing both environmentally and economically, are not backed up. After much searching on Hafren Power’s website and through the company’s written evidence to the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, it has become evident that there is precious little detail to support these claims.

This is deeply concerning, especially when one considers the £8m expense of the UK and Welsh governments’ three  year study into this subject that concluded there was in fact no compelling case for a large barrage. The present campaign to pressurise the Government into allotting parliamentary time for a hybrid bill and a Special Contract for Difference is worrying.

This week, Lord Hylton has a starred question asking the Government when it will announce a decision on the latest plan for a barrage; Mr Hain says the subject has been “studied to death” and that now is the time for action.

But though I know the stakes must be high to secure funding for the promotion of the scheme, there are many less harmful options for harnessing the area’s tidal energy. In November 2012, Regen South West published a discussion document, “Bristol Channel Energy: A Balanced Technology Approach”, outlining the alternative technologies and phasing which could together produce as much energy as the barrage.

My concern now is that the Government, being lost in this skillfully constructed Bermuda triangle of media statements, will flip flop on the decision they made in October 2010 not to proceed with a barrage scheme.

Tony Berkeley, House of Lords  – 15 Jan 2013

Tony worked for Eurotunnel during the project’s development and construction (1981-94) and previously on Llyn Brianne dam in Wales and a number of port projects.


4 comments for “do we need the Severn Barrage?

  1. Gareth Howell
    16/01/2013 at 1:48 pm

    (yet to be prototyped) ‘fish-friendly’ turbine

    Archimedes may have done it some time ago, notably with the Archimedes Screw.

  2. MilesJSD
    21/01/2013 at 3:24 pm

    Gareth has wisely flashed his intellectual ray upon an enthymemed-assumption in the noble engineering lord’s argumentation of “fish-friendliness”;
    but both have omitted to say whether that is biocentricly “fish-natural-habitat-and behaviour friendliness” or is homocentricly “fish-farming-friendly for fatter fillets on human platters”.

    [ And what about “chips friendliness” ? under the steady degradation of the world’s farming-lands where arable-soils are being irreversibly “clapped out” and neither potatoes nor onions will grow in them any more – – – (and it’ll take “Mother” Nature more than 3,000 years to re-create a top-soil deep enough to grow anything deeper rooted than 3-inches) ] ?

    One feels, and intellectually-intuits, that one is lost amongst these Barrages of Band-Aids as they burn Money, non-renewable resources, erstwhilely-renewable bio-lifesupports, and oft-unfit-for-purpose Human Energies
    grandly “in order” to support the looming desperately Bigger Need of the Human Race Worldwide to increase the present “consumption” of Two Earthsworth of Resources in support of the present 7 billion humanly naked-apes;
    whose “leaders” “experts” and “governors”
    have set irreversibly in motion, the further exponential-explosion “upwards” of our human-numbers to be 11 billion by the year 2050, to “ensure” that “more people” will still be “blessed” with the life-standards of 2009.
    I have no wisdom to offer;
    only the question

    “What have you done,
    and/or what is being done,
    to ensure Sustainworthiness as well as Sustainability
    both of our Human Race and of the Earth-Lifesupports that we (for maybe thousands even millions of years more) will probably yet also “hopefully” Need ?”
    There is much more to this “Severn Barrage” thing than “50,000 more jobs” –
    which will doubtless be paid on average more than two human-livings per head per week –

    ( – in other words this new “economic infrastructure” has to support not only the fat increase of the World Population of human-mouths from 7 billion to 11 billion, but to “Strengthen” our Workplace-Experts’ powers to over-kill this Earth’s Lifesupports not just twice-over but three-times ];

    as also
    (alas! – but Reason must not be stopped by inexorability)
    did the Euro Tunnel,

    and practically every infrastructural “advance” made, and more plans still ongoingly and irreversibly passing into implementation off the drawing boards,

    whilst Earthlife and Stock-in-Earth are both being driven by “our” Human Civilisation downwards even more irreversibly into Extinction and Destruction.
    Perhaps the noble lord, and as many of the Upper House’s experts and dedicates as can be spared, should be leading in a Scrutiny of “This Earth’s Lifeforms’ Needs, Hows and Prospects”;
    which might also trigger a long overdue Encyclopaedia of that sort of name, to be legacied to our offspring, who must bear the skin-burning-torch forwards into posterity.

    • Gareth Huw Howell
      23/01/2013 at 9:26 am

      What will they do about the “Bore”?
      Is it further down river than the emergence of that?

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