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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Peter Hain - optimist or fantasist?

Further to my blog post a few days ago in which I questioned whether Peter Hain's continuing support for the Severn Barrage was rooted in reality I was gratified to read this letter from Anne Meikle from WWF Cymru in which she argues that the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales is exaggerating the benefits that the project could bring whilst overlooking some significant disbenefits:

WWF Cymru are dismayed to see the prominence given to the opinions of Peter Hain on the benefits of the proposed Cardiff-Weston barrage, even though he is ignoring the results of the feasibility study, commissioned by his own Labour Government, which reported in 2010 (Report, March 11).

I would like to draw attention to the actual findings of the feasibility study as regards jobs and environmental impact.

Mr Hain claims 35,000 jobs during construction and 10,000 permanent jobs. The feasibility study concluded that there could be between 12,000 and 38,000 jobs created. However, given the world wide supply chains involved only 3,000 additional jobs would be created across South Wales and south West. England.

Rather than the 10,000 permanent jobs, which Mr Hain suggests, the study suggests 1,000 regional jobs would be created with a range from 500-1,500.

All of these must be offset with the projected losses of jobs as a result of the barrage, particularly in the ports. Additionally there could be losses in fishing and other marine businesses.

As regards biodiversity, Mr Hain has also chosen to cherry pick from the environmental impacts of the barrage.

The strategic environmental assessment of the scheme does show some positive impacts but also an overwhelming preponderance of negative impacts.

For example, Mr Hain suggests there will be more fish. However, the government study reflects the scientific assessment that the barrage could lead to the collapse and local extinction of the salmon and twaite shad and very significant reductions in eels.

Add to this the negative impact on 34 species of birds and the loss of rare habitats and most scientists would not recognise Mr Hain’s optimistic view.

The Severn is a unique and vast estuary system. This is the reason it is protected by the EC Habitats directive. The feasibility study concludes that it might be possible to compensate for the loss of the estuary to the Cardiff-Weston barrage, but only by development outside the current EC guidance.

She concludes that Severn estuary continues to offer renewable energy opportunities that need to be explored. Perhaps Mr. Hain would be better engaged pressing for that instead of pursuing what is clearly an unsustainable fantasy.
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