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What progress has been made on his Department's appraisal of the proposals for a barrage on the River Severn estuary; and if he will make a statement.
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The Government response to the public consultation on Severn tidal power is expected to be published shortly. A decision on whether to support a Severn estuary power scheme will be made after further assessment of the costs, benefits and impacts, and following a second public consultation, which is likely next year.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response. When he said that a decision would be made on whether to support the idea, what exactly did he mean? If it goes ahead, I presume that the entire barrage will be funded privately. What support can the Government give that project?
Furthermore, when the Minister assesses the appraisal, will he make sure that there will be no negative impact on my constituency of Tewkesbury, which flooded very badly two years ago? I am not against the barrage in principle, but will the Minister make sure that there would be absolutely no negative impact on my constituency in that respect?
The hon. Gentleman has asked me so many questions; I shall do my best to answer as many as you will allow me to, Mr. Speaker. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we take flooding extremely seriously and it will be considered as part of any environmental assessment for any project that might go ahead.
As to what project might go ahead, the hon. Gentleman knows that a range of possibilities are before us. The consultation that has just taken place is about which are feasible and practicable and should be pursued further. That further stage is due next. There are tremendous gains to be made from renewable energy, but we know that the environment in question is internationally important and that people locally are concerned about a number of navigation issues. All those subjects will be considered in that second consultation.
My hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that I have been hearing such statements for at least 30 years. I would very much like to know his opinion of the two technologies that seem to be emerging. One is a 10-mile barrage across the Severn and the other is the building of tidal lagoons. Which does he think will offer the best value for money, which will do the least environmental damage and when are we going to get on with building them?
A lot of progress has been made in just the past 12 months. My right hon. Friend is very unfair in asking me to announce my chosen project today; there are a good number to be assessed before that decision can be made. However, as the Sustainable Development Commission said in its report, there is tremendous potential. We would be irresponsible not to take seriously the prospects of possibly getting quite a large proportion of renewable energy from these sources. The technologies, their respective costs and who would pay for the investment, however, are matters still to be determined.
Will the Minister reassure us that the Government are not drifting relentlessly towards the solution of one giant barrage, with all the environmental consequences that that might have? We should keep open the option of a mix of technologies starting with a much smaller barrage, such as the Shoots barrage. That could start saving carbon much earlier and make more of a contribution to carbon budgets—and without those dire environmental consequences.
It does not even pain me to say that I have seen the Liberal Democrat proposals and that they will be taken into consideration when we assess the different options. I assure the hon. Gentleman that every practicable technology and scheme will be considered. Each will be assessed, and we cannot make a decision at this stage; there is work to be done before we can.