While Heathrow is celebrating the announcement of a third runway getting the go-ahead today, South Wales is still awaiting a formal response on the prospects for the £1.3bn Tidal Lagoon Project.
However a series of leaks to the press indicates that a decision to scrap the project has already been taken in all but name.
‘Not a cat’s chance in hell’
A senior government figure, asked what the chances were of the project getting the go-ahead, told the Financial Times there was not a “cat’s chance in hell”.
Another Whitehall figure said off the record that a negative decision was already taken a fortnight ago but ministers had been discussing ways to mitigate the political impact by offering support for other new low-carbon energy projects in Wales.
The Financial Times reported last Thursday that the proposal will be formally thrown out this week, and the BBC have today published contents of a leaked email showing that Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns himself expressed concern over the cost of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, saying the “numbers are awful” and the lagoon’s output would cost “twice the price of nuclear”.
His email, which was sent in the previous month and leaked to the BBC, said:
“No decision has yet been taken and I have been an advocate from the outset but numbers are awful – twice the price of nuclear, without the prospect of any significant savings from lessons learned on first. We are talking to other developers with similar schemes, at a much lower cost. We are also looking at nuclear provision in Wales that would create 10 times more jobs in construction and more than a thousand extra during operation.”
A Wales Office spokesman said:
“The email makes clear the secretary of state has been a supporter of the project. However, it also raises issues over the cost of energy from the tidal lagoon which have been well publicised.”
Asked by BBC Radio Wales if he was minded to proceed with the plans at present, Mr Cairns told the Good Morning Wales programme:
“I have to take a decision that considers the wider economy, considers the value for money, and I would really like this project to go ahead. If it doesn’t, it’s simply because the numbers don’t stack up.”
TLP defended the projected costs of the energy the lagoon would produce.
A spokesman said:
“The pathfinder lagoon can be delivered for a headline power price in line with nuclear, adding just 30p to bills versus up to £15 at Hinkley Point C – as noted in the Hendry Review.”
Meanwhile many politicians are expressing their displeasure at suggestions the lagoon project will be scrapped. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said:
“A Swansea tidal lagoon would harness Wales’ natural resources, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and create thousands of jobs. Reports that the Tories are planning to reject this project shows their failure to make the right decisions for the economy and the future of our planet.”
Carwyn Jones, first minister of Wales, said the rejection of the lagoon project would be “another kick in the teeth” for the people of Wales. Jones said:
“This is a world-leading technology: it will create 1,000 jobs, both in construction and in terms of maintenance and manufacturing of the kit. It seems, for the UK government, Wales is just not important,” he said.
“It seems the UK government is suffering from that old British malaise of, ‘This is all a bit new; let’s see if someone else does it first, then we’ll try and do it once they’ve done it’.”
Stephen Doughty, MP for Cardiff South said if the reports were true they are an “utter disgrace”.
Meanwhile, Swansea Council Leader Rob Stewart insisted that the council will continue to fight for the project, saying:
“We will not give up on this project, Sustainable renewable Welsh energy for future generations is too big a prize to give up.”
“There have already been discussions with Welsh Government and they have already made a significant offer of support to the project.
“We will evaluate how this support – together with a revised funding model can deliver this project.”
Having already been delivered the blow of a planned rail electrification project being cancelled, South Wales businesses continue to wait – and hope.