Huge Brexit di­vorce bill could sink tidal la­goon, MPs claim

Western Mail - - FRONT PAGE - David Wil­liamson Po­lit­i­cal edi­tor david.wil­liamson@waleson­line.co.uk

THE Swansea Bay tidal la­goon project is at risk be­cause the UK Gov­ern­ment is fac­ing a multi-bil­lion-pound Brexit bill, it has been claimed.

Min­is­ters have come un­der yet more pres­sure to give clar­ity about their back­ing for the flag­ship re­new­able en­ergy project.

Welsh MPs who back the la­goon say the chal­lenges of Brexit mean it is more im­por­tant than ever to bring to the re­gion what they say will be a ma­jor source of power and jobs.

An in­de­pen­dent review gave an em­phatic thumbs-up to the la­goon in Jan­uary, but the UK Gov­ern­ment has yet to pub­lish its re­sponse.

This has trig­gered fears that in­vestors will walk away from the project, which sup­port­ers hope could lead to the cre­ation of la­goons around Wales and in other parts of the world.

Swansea West MP Geraint Davies laid bare his con­cerns about the im­pact of Brexit on the project in a West­min­ster Hall de­bate.

He said the UK Gov­ern­ment was drop­ping en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly projects such as rail elec­tri­fi­ca­tion from Cardiff to Swansea and the tidal la­goon and in­stead pri­ori­tis­ing Lon­don and the south-east of Eng­land.

He stated: “My great fear is that the Swansea Bay tidal la­goon and rail elec­tri­fi­ca­tion to Swansea are set to burn on the al­tar of Brexit fun­da­men­tal­ism... The Gov­ern­ment is now fac­ing a debt from the EU of per­haps

over £50bn, which trans­lates, of course, to thou­sands of pounds for ev­ery fam­ily in Swansea, ev­ery fam­ily in Wales.”

The UK Gov­ern­ment, he claimed, was not look­ing to the long term but in­stead fo­cused on how to pay the di­vorce bill for leav­ing the EU. Mr Davies de­scribed Brexit as a “project that peo­ple re­alise doesn’t re­sem­ble any­thing like what they voted for”.

Newly-elected Gower MP To­nia An­to­ni­azzi de­liv­ered a pas­sion­ate call for the la­goon to be given the green light.

She said: “The con­di­tions around the Swansea Bay make it per­fect for a project of this na­ture.

“Both the River Tawe and River Neath enter the sea here and this pro­posal would build 16 hy­dro-tur­bines and a six-mile break­wa­ter wall around the area, gen­er­at­ing enough en­ergy to power 155,000 homes for the next 120 years.

“Where the Gov­ern­ment’s short­sight­ed­ness has cre­ated a huge hole in our ca­pac­ity to power our coun­try in fu­ture years, the Swansea Bay tidal la­goon of­fers us a way for­ward.”

The Labour MP looked be­yond the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits and made the case that the econ­omy needs the boost the project would bring.

She said: “West Wales was found by the In­equal­ity Brief­ing to be the poor­est re­gion in north­ern Europe. Large in­fra­struc­ture projects are few and far be­tween.

“The Swansea Bay tidal la­goon of­fers a rare glimpse of the UK Gov­ern­ment pro­vid­ing hope in an area too of­ten for­got­ten about by those who cur­rently run West­min­ster.”

Set­ting out the fig­ures, she added: “The [tidal la­goon] has a pro­jected £1.3bn cap­i­tal spend, the ma­jor­ity of which will be spent in Wales and across the UK. The con­struc­tion pe­riod it­self is ex­pected to con­trib­ute £316m in gross value added to the Welsh econ­omy and £76m a year there­after.

“In an area still strug­gling to re­cover from the loss of min­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries, the Swansea Bay tidal la­goon of­fers a bright fu­ture for Wales post-Brexit.”

In an­other push for the UK Gov­ern­ment to re­spond to for­mer En­ergy Min­is­ter Charles Hendry’s review of the project, she said: “The Gov­ern­ment has now been sit­ting on the Hendry Review for longer than it took Charles to con­duct it and that is not ac­cept­able. In­vestors’ money will not last for­ever and we need to move on.”

Swansea East Labour MP Carolyn Har­ris was just as adamant the project should go ahead.

She said: “It would bring an es­ti­mated 2,000 new jobs to the re­gion, and there will be a de­mand for ap­prox­i­mately 100,000 tonnes of lo­cally sourced steel. The tidal la­goon al­ready has 1,300 Bri­tish busi­nesses reg­is­tered on its sup­ply chain data­base.

“This is a golden op­por­tu­nity to use Bri­tish re­sources to de­velop Bri­tish in­dus­try in Wales. Why are we stalling?”

Mak­ing the case that it is even more im­por­tant to back the project as the coun­try heads to­wards Brexit, she said: “As Bri­tain moves into a post-Brexit world, we need to ask if we want to be lead­ers or fol­low­ers... Are we ready to be world lead­ers and de­velop this new en­ergy source in south Wales or are we go­ing to be left be­hind wait­ing, this time for some­one else to steal our lead?

“We can’t af­ford to let this slip

through our fin­gers. We need an an­swer.

“We need the la­goon and we need it now.”

An­gle­sey Labour MP Al­bert Owen said there was the po­ten­tial to have a “clus­ter” of la­goons around Wales, in­clud­ing in Col­wyn Bay.

Wales Of­fice min­is­ter and Cl­wyd West Con­ser­va­tive MP Guto Bebb de­fended the UK Gov­ern­ment’s record, say­ing: “I think it is worth point­ing out that there are 45,662 sites [in] Wales which are gen­er­at­ing re­new­able en­ergy.

“That is a suc­cess story we should be proud of.”

He added: “I would say to hon­ourable mem­bers who are con­cerned about the wait in re­la­tion to the tidal la­goon that the Wales Of­fice con­tin­ues to ar­gue the case strongly for a de­ci­sion to be made.

“But that de­ci­sion, as has con­sis­tently been stated, must be right for both Swansea, for the peo­ple who sup­port the tidal la­goon in Swansea, but it also has to be right in the con­text of our en­ergy pol­icy and the cost of our en­ergy pol­icy.

“And that’s the de­ci­sion that this Gov­ern­ment will de­liver in due course.”

THE John Lewis chair­man has called for a “se­ri­ous par­lia­men­tary de­bate” on Brexit af­ter prof­its at the group tanked as it was hit by fall­ing con­sumer de­mand and cost in­creases linked to the weak pound.

Sir Char­lie May­field added his voice to a cho­rus of busi­ness lead­ers wad­ing into the Brexit ar­gu­ment as fears mount that Bri­tain will crash out of the Euro­pean Union with­out a deal.

He said: “Brexit is hav­ing an im­pact on ev­ery­one, ster­ling is weaker and con­fi­dence is be­ing af­fected.

“There needs to be a se­ri­ous par­lia­men­tary de­bate to find the best way for­ward for the coun­try and the econ­omy. The core prin­ci­ples need to be thrashed out. If they’re not, there is a greater risk of a dis­or­derly out­come.”

His com­ments came af­ter the John Lewis Part­ner­ship blamed fall­ing con­sumer de­mand and cost in­creases linked to the Brexit-hit pound for prof­its more than halv­ing.

The group, which is be­hind the epony­mous depart­ment store chain and posh su­per­mar­ket Waitrose, saw pre-tax prof­its for the six months to the end of July plum­met 53.3% to £26.6m. The fig­ure in­cludes ex­cep­tional items linked to re­struc­tur­ing, prop­erty and re­dun­dancy costs.

Sir Char­lie said the group suf­fered in cat­e­gories linked to the hous­ing mar­ket, which has ex­hib­ited a marked slow­down since the EU ref­er­en­dum.

“The first half of this year has seen in­fla­tion­ary pres­sures driven by ex­change rates and po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty,” he said.

“Th­ese have damp­ened cus­tomer de­mand, es­pe­cially in cat­e­gories con­nected to the hous­ing mar­ket. The ex­change rate-driven in­crease in cost prices has also put pres­sure on mar­gin.”

Mean­while, the boss of fash­ion gi­ant Next said the worst of the Brexit-fu­elled price hikes on the high street are over as the group upped its earn­ings out­look af­ter “en­cour­ag­ing” trad­ing.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Lord Wolf­son said the im­pact of the Brexit vote on the pound “doesn’t look like it’s fuelling an in­fla­tion­ary spi­ral and is pass­ing right through”.

A prom­i­nent Brexit sup­porter, Lord Wolf­son said 2018 will see an end to price rises, with the group pre­dict­ing sta­ble prices from next au­tumn.

The fash­ion group hiked its sales and profit guid­ance as it said trad­ing had turned a cor­ner af­ter a dif­fi­cult start to its half year, although pre-tax prof­its still fell 9.5% to £309.4m for the six months to the end of July.

United: Swansea West MP Geraint Davies, Gower MP To­nia An­to­ni­azzi and Swansea East MP Carolyn Har­ris

>

> ‘The Swansea Bay tidal la­goon of­fers a bright fu­ture for Wales post-Brexit’ – an artist’s im­pres­sion of the wall on the

pro­posed tidal la­goon in Swansea Bay

> Wales Of­fice min­is­ter Guto Bebb

> Sir Char­lie May­field

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