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Severn Barrage Must Pass Tough Sustainability Tests

1 October 2007

Report says possibility of Severn Barrage depends on public leadership and commitment to replacement habitats

The Sustainable Development Commission today (1 October) lays down tough conditions which a Severn barrage would have to meet in order to be considered sustainable. These include public leadership and ownership of the project, and full compliance with environmental legislation protecting the estuary. The Commission also outlined how a commitment to creating compensatory habitats should be seen as an environmental opportunity, combining climate change adaptation with coastal realignment plans to deal with increased risk of flooding.

The Commission's report, Tidal Power in the UK, draws on extensive research and public and stakeholder engagement to reach the conclusion that, the UK's outstanding tidal resources could provide at least 10% of the country's electricity through a combination of technologies. A Severn barrage alone could potentially supply just under 5%.

However, the report insists that commitment to public leadership and ownership of the project is the only way to ensure the public gets a fair share of the rewards and to avoid short-termist decisions. It also asserts that a publicly-led project is the only way of ensuring that the network of estuary habitats protected by European law is not compromised as a result of a Severn barrage.

Sustainable Development Commission conditions for a Severn Barrage:

• A Severn barrage must be publicly led as a project and publicly owned as an asset to avoid short-termist decisions and ensure the long-term public interest

• Full compliance with European Directives on habitats is vital, as is a long-term commitment to creating compensatory habitats on an unprecedented scale

• Development of a Severn Barrage must not divert Government attention away from much wider action on climate change

Jonathon Porritt, Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, said:

"The enormous potential for a Severn barrage to help reduce our carbon emissions and improve energy security needs to be balanced against the impact on the estuary's unique habitat, as well as its communities and businesses. This is why we believe that any development must be publicly-led as a project and publicly-owned as an asset, in order to ensure that the Government takes full responsibility for taking a sustainable, long-term approach."

The report also highlights the fact that the lower rate of interest available to a Government-led project would provide the only realistic way of financing a large-scale compensatory habitat package, as well as providing electricity to consumers at a competitive price.

"The Sustainable Development Commission is issuing a challenge to Government to embrace a new way of managing this major project," said Porritt. "We are excited about the contribution a Severn Barrage could make to a more sustainable future, but not at any cost.

"It is vitally important that all parts of Government - including the Welsh Assembly Government and the South West Regional Development Agency - are actively involved in the project, to ensure that work is fully integrated into regional economic and development plans."

The Commission also warns that the development of major tidal power resources should not be seen as a licence to ignore the need for dramatic reductions in our energy consumption, increased energy efficiency, and the wider decarbonisation of our energy supplies.

A barrage would be only one part of a major long-term sustainable energy strategy for reducing carbon emissions. Reviewing the different types of tidal technology, the report asserts that the way is open for the UK to exploit all some or all of its rich tidal resources for tidal barrages, tidal lagoons or tidal stream devices.

Tidal stream technologies

Emerging tidal stream technologies present exciting opportunities for low carbon energy production, and the report cites potentially huge rewards in terms of export potential from developing this technology. The Commission concludes that Government should 'stay the course' to make tidal stream technology a viable proposition, whilst putting in place a robust regulatory framework and supporting the research required to understand potential environmental impacts.

Tidal lagoons

The report concludes that there are few direct conflicts between tidal barrages and tidal lagoons, with the exception of claims made for large scale lagoon development in the Severn Estuary. Although there is little authoritative evidence available on tidal lagoon technology, which proposes using hydropower turbines in an offshore impoundment, lagoons could potentially be developed in a number of shallow coastal areas with sufficient tidal range. The Commission would like to see the Government investigating their long-term potential by funding a demonstration project. This would allow a full evaluation of the costs and the potential environmental impacts.

Tidal Power in the UK was funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG), the South West of England Regional Development Agency (SWRDA), the Scottish Government, and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Northern Ireland).

» Download Turning the Tide, Tidal Power in the UK.

For hard copies, please contact the Sustainable Development Commission on 0300 068 6305 or e-mail mailto: enquiries@sd-commission.org.uk

Background research reports and accounts of public and stakeholder engagement are also available to download from the Sustainable Development Commission website.


Notes to Editors

1. For more information and interviews, contact Rhian Thomas on 020 7270 8539 / 07793 544 162, or email rhian.thomas@sd-commission.org.uk

2. The Sustainable Development Commission is the Government's independent advisory body on sustainability issues, made up of 19 Commissioners and chaired by Jonathon Porritt. It reports directly to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland.

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