Severn barrage is ego project for civil engineers who don’t care about the environment says UK’s leading marine charity
Marine Conservation Society says barrage is wrong project in wrong place as PM promises to revisit proposals
MCS says Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to revisit proposals for a 16 kilometre barrage to be built across the Severn estuary is ill-advised and at odds with Tory claims to be the greenest government ever.
Labour MP for Neath, Peter Hain, who left his post as shadow Welsh Secretary earlier this year to back the project has met with David Cameron to promote the barrage proposal. Mr Cameron has since instructed civil servants to take another look at the project which is estimated to cost as much as £34billion.
Supporters of the project say the barrage would provide – at most – 5% of the UK’s electricity needs. But MCS says the public are being misled when it comes to the true cost of the barrage.
Dr Robert Keirle, MCS Pollution Programme Manager says: “Electricty produced will need to be subsidized by the UK taxpayer and will probably cost up to twice as much as electricity produced elsewhere. If the barrage produces power for 120 years, as the developers estimate, that will be a huge bill for successive Governments to foot.”
MCS says its position on the barrage is clear. “As a concept MCS is strongly supportive of renewable energy, as it will lessen our dependence on so-called fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil, and make a significant contribution to meeting the UK Government’s legally binding target of at least an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” says Dr Keirle.
MCS says the Severn Barrage is the wrong option in the wrong place. Although the tidal range in the Severn estuary is the second greatest in the world after the Bay of Fundy in Canada and undoubtedly presents a lot of opportunities for the generation of renewable energy, building a concrete barrier from South Wales to Somerset is not a credible option.
MCS says it’s concerned that environmental concerns are taking a back seat to what many will see as an impressive civil engineering project. The charity says the environmental risks far outweigh the commercial benefits.
“Fish and eel migratory routes will be severely inhibited,” says Dr Keirle. “In fact they may be blocked completely; approximately 14,000 hectares of inter-tidal habitat of international importance lost upstream of the barrage; due to the high suspended sediment levels within the water, it is doubtful whether the lifetime of the barrage would be anywhere near as long as the projected 120 years; and the barrage could severely damage the viability of ports such as at Avonmouth.”
Dr Keirle says turbines and wildlife just don’t mix: “Although the barrage’s promoters have said the turbines have been re-designed to be more fish-friendly we’re still concerned that, once operational, the barrage may have an unacceptable impact on fish stocks within the Severn estuary. We could see mutilated fish washing up along huge stretches of coastline. Favourite beaches like Weston-super-Mare and Brean Sands could end up being strewn with dead fish.”
Dr Keirle says that at a projected cost of up to £34billion, the barrage is expected to generate – at most – 5% of the UK’s energy needs – which in the great scheme of things is a drop of the ocean: “MCS would far prefer to see a mixed bag approach taken to the generation of renewable energy, consisting of on- and offshore wind turbines, tidal lagoons, and wave and tide turbines, all of which need to be sensitively located and undergo full environmental impact assessments.”