MPs hear Severn Barrage could be 'absolutely devastating'
8:50am Saturday 19th January 2013 in News
THE proposal to build a barrage across the Severn Estuary from Lavernock Point to Somerset 'could be absolutely devastating' to wildlife, MPs have heard.
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, RSPB and Angling Trust told the House of Commons Energy & Climate Committee they all support tidal energy development in the Severn - but that the current proposal lacks detail.
And they say claims by project developers Hafren Power that it would not unacceptably damage wildlife and large areas of habitat are 'not realistic'.
Both opponents and supporters of the proposed scheme have been putting their case to MPs in recent days. Objectors believe the project is not financially viable, would risk existing jobs in the estuary and its ports, and cite environmental concerns.
Angling Trust National Campaigns Co-ordinator Martin Salter said: "Claims that these turbines are fish friendly are absolute guff. This is 24/7 fish mincing.
"This drives a coach and horses through all environmental protections that governments have signed up to. The impact could be absolutely devastating on both the commercial fishery, on the recreational fishery and on highly protected habitat."
Martin Spray, chief executive of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, told MPs: "There is potential for energy generation but we have to come up with environmentally sustainable, acceptable and sensible solutions."
Kate Jennings, the RSPB's head of site conservation policy, added: "The official government study into the Severn Barrage proposal in 2010 showed that there would be significant effects on the populations of 30 species of birds, and that in addition to the Severn, it would also have negative impact on at least five other internationally important wildlife sites nearby."
She also addressed claims that a barrage would reduce flood risk by protecting against storm surges, telling MPs a barrage could actually increase flood risk upstream.
"There are other forms of flood risk, a significant one being fluvial (rivers), and managing that relies on the ability to get water out of the Severn," she said.
"Holding it back behind a barrage would compromise that and tide-lock drainage. We don't have enough details of the proposals."
But supporters of the proposed barrage claim the project would create thousands of jobs and help tackle climate change.
Neath MP Peter Hain, who quit the shadow cabinet to campaign for the barrage, told the committee that the proposal had been 'studied to death' and it was time to 'press ahead'.
He said: "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."
* Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty, in his Penarth Times column this week, says: "I am concerned that there are a lot of claims being made, without any of us having adequate information.
"I already made clear to Hafren Power in particular that they need to provide much more detail - soon - and that speaking to people here must be top of their list."