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Severn Estuary Barrage Study

Volume 477: debated on Tuesday 24 June 1986

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My Lords I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the latest position on the River Severn barrage project, and when their response to the report on the project is due to be announced.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have recently received the report of the Severn Tidal Power Group which has been engaged for the last two to three years in a study, partly funded by Government, to assess the viability of a private sector barrage across the Severn estuary. The report is comprehensive and detailed. Consultations are taking place with the Severn Tidal Group and other interested parties before a response can be made.

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that interesting Answer, can he assure the House that it is still the Government's view that the potential of the Severn's tidal power is as great as any in the world and indeed greater than the project brought to a successful conclusion at La Rance in France?

My Lords, yes, indeed. This is potentially the second largest tidal barrage in the world and is certainly larger than that in France. There is one in Nova Scotia which is presently the largest, but this would be the second largest in the world.

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell me whether the report which the Government have received refers to the shorter barrage or the longer one from Weston-super-Mare?

My Lords, this would be the near-Weston-super-Mare to near-Cardiff barrage.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is generally agreed that this is a very important project? Does he recall that in another place on 18th April his honourable friend in answer to a question from Mr. David Mudd, said that the report would be published shortly? It is now 24th June, nine weeks later. Can the noble Lord say when we are likely to see the publication of the report, and will a copy be placed in the Library?

My Lords, I am afraid that my answer is still "shortly", but I hope that the period will be shorter than the one mentioned the last time such a question was asked. I shall indeed ensure that a copy of the report is placed in the Library.

My Lords, perhaps I may follow up my noble friend's question and the noble Lord's reference to "shortly". Does the noble Lord recall that four-and-a-half years ago, in February. 1982, we had a debate in this House on the Bondi Report and his noble predecessor, on winding-up that debate, said, if I recall, that the Government would shortly be reporting after they had considered the issues? How long does it take for this Government to make up their mind—four-and-a-half years? In view of the great concern and interest in Wales in this project and the high unemployment in the Principality, and bearing in mind that it is thought that if this project were put in hand, it would provide several thousand jobs, will the noble Lord be a little more specific and be good enough to accelerate the response to the report?

My Lords, in fact I do not think that the noble Lord will have long to wait. Following the publication of the Bondi Report, the Government promoted the Severn Tidal Power Group's report, which was half-funded by the Government. Originally the group was expected to report within two years. In fact, the report was published in May, 1983; so it has taken slightly over three years. However, one must remember that it is an extremely large project and, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said, very substantial job opportunities are linked to it.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that hydrologists and engineers have been working on this since the first design in 1849?

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is right, but I am afraid that my memory does not take me back quite that far.

My Lords, does the noble Lord appreciate that this matter has many facets? Therefore perhaps he will forgive a third member of the Opposition Front Bench asking a question. My question has transport connections. As a review concerning a second Severn crossing is under consideration, have the two groups been liaising?

My Lords, the report produced by the Severn Tidal Power Group will concentrate on the energy-producing aspects. However, in their response the Government will have to take into account not only that but the environ-mental impact on the area, plus of course the possibility of a road crossing, which is what I think the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was referring to, and also of course the possible effects upon recreation and tourism.

My Lords, will the Government satisfy themselves that, if this barrage is built, migratory fish going up or down the Rivers Severn and Wye will be able to pass through the barrage without excessive loss, and that consequently there will not be severe losses to the stocks in those and other rivers?

My Lords, I am sure that that is one of the matters which will be taken into consideration.