Monday 13 May 2013

The dam with a hole

Just when it was starting to look as if the whole scheme for a Severn Barrage was sinking rapidly – so much so that the MP for Hafren Power Central Neath was starting to foment trouble elsewhere (How could the Labour Party ever think it could win any elections without his advice?), up pops the Western Mail with a front-page banner headline claiming that the barrage scheme has been “boosted” by the engagement of a number of major companies. The paper thinks this is a big story apparently – although not quite big enough to depose rumours about managers of Welsh soccer teams being enticed away to Everton from the very top of the front page.

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.


Anonymous said...

Unlike John i'm not against a Barrage if it can be made to stack up financially. But I bang my head against my desk every time someone talks about a road or rail link on top of it. There are NO plans for the consortium to add a transport link. This would be an optional extra the Government could "buy" and would cost an astronomical amount.

G Horton-Jones said...

It seems that every new structure crossing the Severn is over the years progressing further and further downstream and thus getting longer and therefore more expensive
And that these stuctures are single function ie road rail now barrage
Am I alone in thinking that a combined function structure could be built close to the original Severn bridge and that a relief rail link could be reinstated to cross the river linking Lydney to Sharpness

John Dixon said...


I agree with you that 'there are no plans for the consortium to add a transport link', and also that it would cost an 'astronomical amount'. Yet still, all the plans and pictures show it with a nice big road running along the top. If someone were to suggest actually building it without a transport link, there would be howls of protest about 'missed opportunities' - I can see the headlines now. And whatever people say at the moment, I remain convinced that it will not be privately financed without some form of subsidy - and what better form of subsidy (from the developers' point of view at least) than to load all the risk onto the road and charge the taxpayer for it?

G Horton-Jones said...


May I recommend Anon to try Llandovery then cross Lyn Brianne and on to Soar y mynnydd. My Freelander which I can happily describe as the worst of nearly twenty vehicles I have owned let alone driven in different parts of the world reckoned this to be a fantastic adventure and did involve a road crossing of a barrage

BoiCymraeg said...

Is there any reason to build a transport link other than "because we can"? Is there really so much traffic from Wales to SW England? I guess there would be more if it were easier to get between the two; but this seems like a very dangerous way of planning such expensive projects. The area of Somerset/Devon accross from Barry isn't exactly densely populated, and Bristol is already adequately served by the Severn Bridge (from which any new road link would inevitably take traffic, and thus toll fares, away).