I wonder whether it’s really that big a story – is it saying much more than “companies sign contracts from which they expect to make a profit”? The paper merely tells us that the companies have “been engaged” to assess the project; it tells us nothing about the commercial terms of engagement. One assumes that they’re expecting to be paid for their work; and companies accepting paid work for profit tells us little about the viability of the scheme itself.
It’s possible of course that I’m being too cynical here, and that they’re doing work for nothing at this stage in the hope of a bigger payback later. It’d be a gamble if they were.
The Western Mail has become something of a cheerleader for this doomed project. Its editorial tells us that “the environmental advantages of building a barrage are demonstrable”, but gives us only that half of the story which fits that particular narrative.
To read both the story itself and the editorial comment, one might conclude that the only opposition to the scheme comes from the owner of Bristol Port; and that as he is a donor to the Conservative party his concerns can be dismissed with no further consideration.
Not only do the environmental arguments for the barrage not stack up, but neither do the economic ones. This barrage will only ever be built – regardless of what its proponents say – if there is a massive investment of taxpayer funding; even if it is disguised funding. It is no coincidence that all the drawings and artists’ impressions of the scheme show a bridge over the top of the barrage.
Hafren Power have been, in fairness, clear from the outset that they would not provide that bridge, nor build the higher and stronger barrage which it would require. That is something that we would have to pay for, but since no one seems able to conceive of a barrage without a road on top, public involvement would be inevitable.
I’d lay odds that the risks and rewards will end up being shared in the usual fashion between the public sector and the private sector – the public sector (all of us, effectively) would get to share the risks amongst ourselves, and the sponsors of the scheme would get to share the rewards amongst themselves.