Time to press on with Severn Barrage - Peter Hain MP tells committee
THE time has come to press ahead with the £25billion Severn Barrage scheme, a former Government minister has told a commons committee.
The project would create thousands of much-needed jobs and help tackle climate change, said Neath Labour MP Peter Hain, who said the prospect of a Severn Barrage had been "studied to death".
He made an impassioned plea in support of the controversial proposal, which he said would bring "considerable benefits" to the UK.
The former Welsh Secretary told the Energy and Climate Change Committee that 50,000 jobs would be created by the barrage.
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It would provide 5 per cent of the UK's electricity, equivalent to three or four nuclear power stations and thousands of wind turbines, he said.
And it would also give flood protection to 90,000 properties, he told MPs.
Around 20,000 direct jobs would be created, as well as 30,000 others in the supply chain and other parts of industry, giving a huge economic boost to South Wales and to South West England, he added.
The Neath MP said he understood the controversy generated by the proposal, which has sparked opposition from environmental groups and suggestions that it would hit the port at Bristol.
Mr Hain said a Severn Barrage was a "win-win" project for ports in Bristol and Port Talbot and maintained it had attracted almost universal support from the Welsh public.
"This has been studied to death. We could carry on researching this for decades to come, meanwhile we are not achieving our climate change objectives and missing out on the massive economic benefits.
"We have to think big, act big and grasp this opportunity. This is natural power which in the long term will produce incredibly cheap electricity for the UK and has many other benefits."
Andy Richards of the Unite union agreed there was "significant" public support in Wales.
He said it was time to move on from the "scaremongering" and start to examine the detail of the proposal by Hafren Power, the firm behind the scheme.
"I hope the opposition is not being based on parochial future business interests," he said.
Organisations opposed to the proposals for a barrage across the Severn challenged claims it would reduce flooding and could deliver environmental benefits, warning the evidence did not support suggestions by its backers.
The RSPB's Kate Jennings said a previous feasibility study into a barrage found that while it could prevent a storm surge coming up the estuary, it would increase the risk of river flooding above the barrier and damage flood defences.
She also said there would be fundamental changes to the estuary and substantial habitat loss, with significant impacts on 30 species of birds and five special protection areas, as well as affecting migratory bird populations beyond the UK.
She said: "It seems to be a high risk option from every point of view, from an investor point of view, from a flood risk point of view, from an environmental point of view."
Martin Salter of the Angling Trust hit out at claims the turbines would be fish-friendly, warning the barrage would be a 24-hour "fish mincing" scheme in an estuary providing 25 per cent of the UK's salmon habitat.
The Environment Agency had said it did not know of any turbine design which would allow the safe passage of fish through at the scale proposed, he told MPs.
"Frankly, the claims that these turbines are fish-friendly are absolute guff," he said.
"The impact could be absolutely devastating on the commercial fishery, the recreational fishery and important habitats."
The trust fears the barrage could hit angling, a hugely popular and economically valuable sport which sustains 37,000 jobs.
Simon Pryor from the National Trust said a barrage would have a major impact on a wide area, and be visible from places such as Exmoor, the Mendips and the Wales coast path.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's chief executive Martin Spray said the organisation's site in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, received a quarter of a million visitors a year to see its bird life, and the barrage would have an impact on that.
Although they oppose Hafren's Severn barrage scheme, the groups said they were not against renewable energy.
They expressed support for looking at other technology options that have been proposed to harness power from the estuary – which has the second highest tidal range in the world – with a lower impact on the region.