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Severn Barrage

Volume 503: debated on Thursday 7 January 2010

6. What recent assessment he has made of progress on a decision on an option for the construction of a Severn barrage. (308892)

The Government are currently carrying out a feasibility study to decide whether we could support a Severn tidal scheme, and if so, on what terms. All the evidence gathered will be published alongside a second public consultation, which is expected to be held later this year.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. This is an enormously exciting, but also enormously challenging, project: it has the potential to make a major contribution to the UK’s renewable energy needs, but is complex in both engineering and environmental terms. As well as providing the public information that he mentioned, will he agree to draw together Members of Parliament on both sides of the Severn estuary so that we can be involved in an interim process and understand how the Government are taking the project forward?

My right hon. Friend is right to say that there are great potential gains to be made from generating renewable energy from a barrier or similar scheme on the Severn. On the other hand, however, there are international and national nature conservation and biodiversity issues that also have to be considered. My noble Friend Lord Hunt, my fellow Energy Minister, recently wrote to all hon. Members updating them on the process and expressing a willingness to hold the sort of meeting that my right hon. Friend has just suggested. My noble Friend and I remain perfectly willing to meet Members of Parliament to update them on the scheme.

Could the study that the Minister mentioned cover the need for a grid connection for the Severn barrage project? At present, the National Grid wants to put in a new line of pylons across the Somerset levels, which will also affect the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose). That is controversial, and we oppose it. It would make sense to go for a submarine cable to take the energy away from Hinkley. That could be done as part of the study for the Severn barrage.

I have heard the right hon. Gentleman make that point on behalf of his constituents before, and I congratulate him on his persistence and ingenuity in working it into the question before us. I assure him that every aspect of the development is being considered in the feasibility study, so my answer to his question is yes.