Huge Brexit divorce bill could sink tidal lagoon, MPs claim
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