House of Lords returns to Severn barrage debate

There are, the House of Lords was told last night, two types of Severn bore.

Labour peer Lord Berkeley quoted from a column in the Financial Times last December. "There are two varieties of Severn bore," wrote the FT's Jonathan Guthrie. "The first is a regular surge of water up-river due to the funnelling effect that the English and Welsh coastlines have on the tide.

"The second is a regular surge of enthusiasm for slinging a barrage between said coastlines to generate tidal electricity."

The Lords spent one hour 22 minutes discussing the possible effects of building a barrage. The debate was led by the Conservative former minister Lord Cope of Berkeley, an opponent of the scheme.

He told peers: "Evidence given to the Commons select committee on energy and climate change has made it clear that it is a naive proposal, absurdly short on detail, and I am sure that it will not happen."

His certainty that the barrage is doomed didn't prevent him devoting some time to the "several and distinct" reasons he believes the current Hafren Power proposals won't be put into practice - "silt", "habitats", "economics" and "ports".

Liberal Democrat Lord German said the UK government should give "some sense of direction and promotion" to submissions for a barrage to enable a scaled-up demonstration project.

A Conservative former cabinet minister, Lord Jenkin, wanted to know where the money was coming from. "Hafren Power has been extraordinarily economical with its business plan. It has published documents, but not given any real indication of what the whole business case is."

Labour's Lady Jones of Whitchurch supported the project and warned there was "increasing urgency" about the need to meet green energy targets. "There may be other options, but to me it seems that this is the only game in town at the moment."

Lord Howarth of Newport, once a Labour MP in the city, claimed: "It would be a crime against humanity if the government passed up the opportunity to identify and drive forward an ecologically acceptable and financially robust Severn barrage scheme."

Energy Minister Lady Verma spoke for the UK government. "We have received an outline proposal from Hafren Power and have had some discussions with the company.

"However, the information provided so far does not allow us to assess whether the proposal is credible. Nor does it demonstrate if the project can achieve the benefits that Hafren Power claims.

"There are a number of issues that Hafren Power will need to explore in much greater detail before we could take a view as to whether its proposal warrants further interest from the government."

She highlighted the need for "credible, clear evidence" of the impact of the scheme on the environment, of its affordability, effect on local ports and job creation claims.

"The Hafren Power proposal has not gone far enough in providing the evidence required at this stage for the government to justify endorsement of the project."

So the project does not appear to be any nearer getting the go-ahead than when peers last discussed the idea three months ago. Since then, BBC Wales has raised questions about the past business background of two of the founders of Hafren Power, including its largest shareholder.

Last December, Jonathan Guthrie concluded his column: "Barrage enthusiasts should not despair, though. Even if this scheme fails, another will be close behind to reignite their pipe dream."

We should find out within weeks - when the energy and climate change committee reports - whether Hafren Power's proposal will survive the MPs' scrutiny.

You can read the Hansard report of last night's debate here.