The Building Centre promotes Sustainable Drainage Systems

“Rethinking the Urban Landscape” – Exhibition at the Building Centre

Making the case for ‘Green Infrastructure’

March 24th 2015

The Building Centre in Central London recently hosted an exhibition on “Rethinking the Urban Landscape,” curated by the Building Centre and the Landscape Institute. The exhibition presented the arguments for investing in ‘Green Infrastructure’ in the early stages of urban and regeneration planning. On its website, the Building Centre says that the exhibition set out to show “that with long-term landscape planning cities can become healthier, safer and happier places to be – from reduced risk of flooding, to countering the ‘invisible killer’ of bad air quality, to weaving more enjoyable and inspiring environments throughout the urban fabric.”

The exhibition featured a number of projects from across the globe, including the Derbyshire Street Pocket Park in Bethnal Green, a regeneration project in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. The street, previously used for fly-tipping and as a location for antisocial behaviour, was remodelled and rebuilt as a “pocket park” with funding from the Mayor of London’s ‘pocket park’ initiative and Tower Hamlets Borough Council. The features include a sustainable urban drainage system (SuDS), a cycle lane, a rain garden, new seating, and bespoke planters donated by Thames Water that capture rainwater from the roof of an arts centre. The Building Centre says the Bethnal Green project is now seen “as an exemplar street-greening scheme and is the model for other projects across the borough.”

The Building Centre cites the Bethnal Green project as a good example of how best to manage rainwater. “Managing water is a rising challenge,” it says. “From being an asset it can become a devastating problem when storm waters all try to get through the drain at once. Understanding sustainable drainage as well as designing with water will bring about a revolution in how we plan our cities… Through the creation of ponds, wetlands, swales and basins, which mimic natural drainage, we can better manage water.”

The Centre says that the rainwater storage capacity for the Derbyshire Street pocket park has been calculated at 12 cubic metres and if similar sustainable drainage schemes were applied to all of the built environment in London this would achieve over 10 million cubic metres of storage. “That’s about ten times the capacity of the Thames Tideway Tunnel,” it says, “which is the infrastructure development that is about to be built to deal with flood water.”

The exhibition was accompanied by a series of supporting events and discussions, such as “How should we promote policies on green infrastructure in a time of austerity?” Each event asked a question that addressed future learning and thinking for the design profession. The speakers included landscape architects, policy makers, community activists and industry leaders.

Notes

The Building Centre exists to promote innovation in the built environment. First established in 1931, the organisation is now a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing education, information and inspiration to all sectors of the built environment as well as the general public. It works with many leading organisations, individuals and companies connected with environmental issues and building, and organises a number of exhibitions and events throughout the year. The Building Centre is located on South Crescent, Store Street, Central London, and is open to all involved in architecture, construction, and the built environment. For more information see the Building Centre website.

Acknowledgement

Photo from Wikimedia Commons shows the construction of a swale. Sustainable drainage systems use a variety of techniques, one of which is artificial swales or bioswales. Swales are designed to manage rainwater run-off by spreading it along an elevation contour line and facilitating its infiltration into the soil.

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Invasive Species – New laws and new initiatives

Part Four of the Infrastructure Act 2015 aims to curb the spread of invasive and non-native plants and animals

March 19th 2015

New laws came into force last month with regard to invasive and non-native plants and animals. Part Four of the Infrastructure Act 2015, which received Royal Assent last month, has amended Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to introduce provisions for environmental controls in this area; namely, species control agreements, species control orders, and related matters.

Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was designed to prevent the release into the wild of certain plants and animals which may cause ecological, environmental, or social or economic harm. Schedule 9 of that Act listed “animals that are established in the wild” (in Part 1) and plants (in Part 2) which were thought to fall within its remit. Schedule 9 has now been amended so that Part 1 now lists “non-native animals that are established in the wild.” Two sections are then inserted into Schedule 9 with Part 1A listing “native animals” and Part 1B listing “animals no longer normally present.”

Who’s in and Who’s out

As it stands, the Part 1B list of “animals no longer present” currently has two members, the Eurasian Beaver (“but not in relation to Wales”) and the Wild Boar. Part 1A lists eight birds that fall within the remit of environmental controls and the list includes the Red Kite, the Chough and the Barn Owl.

When it was enacted, the 1981 Act included the Budgerigar, Coypu, Canada Goose, American Mink, Grey Squirrel, Black Rat, Himalayan Porcupine, Red-necked Wallaby, Mongolian Gerbil and various Pheasant species in its list of animals that were established in the wild, whilst the list of plants within its remit numbered four: the Giant Hogweed, Giant Kelp, Japanese Knotweed and Japanese Seaweed. The lists were revised in 2010 by a Statutory Instrument and a large number of plants and animals were added to the lists. The amendments also included the removal of the Budgerigar, Coypu, Himalayan Porcupine and Mongolian Gerbil from the “established in the wild” group. UK Wildlife has an up-to-date record of all the animals and plants that fall within the remit of Schedule 9.

Spreading Awareness

Last month, in a week devoted to spreading awareness of invasive and non-native species, Defra listed “12 tiny things that cause huge problems.” The list includes the Harlequin Ladybird, Floating Pennywort, Killer Shrimp, Signal Crayfish and the Quagga Mussel. Anglian Water highlights five species that are causing problems for the rivers, riverbanks and wetlands of East Anglia. These are the Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam, plus the Quagga Mussel, Killer Shrimp, and Signal Crayfish. Plantlife lists an “infamous five” and a “dirty dozen” in its lists of invasive non-native plants and reckons that around £1.7 billion is spent every single year on trying to tackle the problem.

New Initiatives

Defra, together with Natural England and the Environment Agency, is funding a collaborative project called the Cumbria Freshwater Invasive and Non-Native Initiative (CFINNS). On its website, CFINNS says the initiative is a pilot for a county-wide, multi-catchment project for freshwater and riparian invasive non-native species: “The Initiative’s vision is to achieve a sustainable county-wide management framework that will prevent the introduction of, or detect, control and/or eradicate specified invasive non-native species throughout Cumbria.”

In a further initiative to tackle the problem, the Nature Locator team at the University of Bristol is collaborating with the Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology on the PlantTracker Project. To help curb the spread of the UK’s most problematic invasive, non-native plant species, the group has developed the PlantTracker app to obtain a more accurate picture of where these plants are located. The PlantTracker project team says that the app is available free from the iTunes App Store and Android Market and “shows you how to identify each species and enables you to easily submit geo-located photos whenever you find one. The app now features 14 invasive plant species and also includes a ‘Confusion Species’ gallery for each one, to help you separate some of the similar looking plants you might encounter.”

Environmental Controls

The Infrastructure Act 2015 has introduced provisions for environmental controls to help to combat the spread of invasive species. The new legislation gives environmental authorities new powers with regard to species control agreements, species control orders, and powers of enforcement. For further information, see our news item “Infrastructure Act gives new powers to environmental authorities”.

Acknowledgement

Photo: Japanese Knotweed, Trent and Mersey Canal, Longport, Staffordshire. © Copyright Roger Kidd and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Japanese Knotweed was first recorded in the UK in 1886 and is now a source of major problems for householders and property developers. This notorious plant can grow through concrete and cause expensive damage.

Infrastructure Act gives new powers to environmental authorities

Species Control Agreements and Species Control Orders among the new powers available to environmental authorities

March 18th 2015

New laws came into force last month designed to combat the spread of invasive and non-native plant and animal species. Part Four of the Infrastructure Act 2015 has amended Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which was designed to prevent certain plants and animals being released into the wild. Schedule 9 of that Act listed those species that were considered to be a potential cause of harm to ecological, environmental, or social or economic interests. Schedule 9 has now been revised and expanded with Part 1 listing “non-native animals that are established in the wild,” Part 1A listing “native animals” and Part 1B listing “animals no longer normally present.” Further amendments to the 1981 Act include provisions for environmental controls in this area whilst the new legislation also creates two new offences, for which a convicted offender is liable to be fined, served a twelve-month prison sentence, or both.

Environmental Controls

The main amendment to the 1981 Act is the insertion of the new Schedule 9A, titled “Species Control Agreements and Orders (England and Wales).” Schedule 9A provides for species control agreements between environmental authorities and owners of premises, species control orders made by environmental authorities, and for related matters. A species control agreement or a species control order “may relate to an invasive non-native species of animal or plant, or a species of animal that is no longer normally present in Great Britain.”

The new legislation defines “species” as any kind of animal or plant and “invasive” if, uncontrolled, the species “would be likely to have a significant adverse impact on biodiversity, other environmental interests, or social or economic interests.” The legislation also clarifies the definitions of “non-native” and “no longer normally present in Great Britain” with regard to animals. A “non-native” animal is defined as one whose natural range does not include any part of Great Britain but which is present in the country because of human activity. An animal that is “no longer normally present in Great Britain” is defined as one whose natural range includes all or any part of the country but which has ceased to be a resident or a regular visitor to the country in a wild state. The list of animals no longer normally present (the new Part 1B) consist of two members: the Wild Boar and the Eurasian Beaver (“but not in relation to Wales”).

Species Control Agreements and Species Control Orders

For those plants and animals that fall within the remit of Schedule 9, an environmental authority (such as the Environment Agency, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, or the Forestry Commission) may enter into a “species control agreement” with an owner of any premises where the authority considers “there is present on the premises either an invasive non-native species, or a species of animal that is no longer normally present in Great Britain.” References to a species being “present” on premises include its being present at any stage in its life-cycle (as eggs or seeds, for instance).

Under a species control agreement the parties agree to the carrying out of “species control operations.” These are designed to do one or more of the following:

  • eradicate a species from the premises
  • control a species on the premises
  • prevent a species from returning to the premises

A species control agreement must specify the operations to be carried out, the party who is to carry them out, and the timescale of the operations. It may also provide supplementary information such as payments to be made by either party with regard to the carrying out of the operations.

Under certain circumstances, an environmental authority may make a “species control order.” The circumstances include those where an owner has failed to comply with a species control agreement and has failed to rectify the failure having been given notice and a reasonable opportunity to do so. Another circumstance is where an environmental authority has offered to enter into a species control agreement with the owner but the owner has refused or ignored the offer. The legislation defines “owner” not simply as the landowner but as “a person who for the time being exercises powers of management or control over the land” which might include a leaseholder or a development company for example.

Under such circumstances, the environmental authority can issue a species control order requiring the owner to carry out species control operations or stating that the environmental authority proposes to carry out such operations, or both. The order must specify the species, the type of operation, the timescale, and a map of the premises if appropriate. The owner has a right of appeal with regard to the order, in which case the appeal must be allowed to run its course before the control operations can be carried out.

The legislation creates two new offences, the offender being a person who either a.) without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with a requirement imposed on that person by a species control order; or b.) intentionally obstructs a person from carrying out an operation required or proposed under a species control order. If convicted, the offender is liable to pay a fine or serve a maximum prison sentence of twelve months, or both.

The legislation also gives environmental authorities powers of entry to a premises. The powers allow an authorised person to enter any premises to determine, for example, whether to offer to enter into a species control agreement, whether to make or revoke a species control order, or to investigate suspected non-compliance with an agreement or control order, or to place a notice, or to carry out species control operations. However, the powers do not allow a person to enter a premises with a view to establishing whether a species is present unless the environmental authority has reasonable grounds for suspecting that it is. To exercise a right of entry, a person must be authorised by an environmental authority or, in certain circumstances, by a warrant issued by a justice of the peace.

Supplementary provisions in the legislation state that the secretary of State or Welsh Ministers may make arrangements for the payment of compensation to the owner of the premises if the owner suffers a financial loss resulting from a species control agreement or order, or from exercising the powers of entry. A further provision states that Government ministers must issue a Code of Practice with regard to species control agreements and orders.

For a summary of the Infrastructure Act 2015, see our news item “Infrastructure Act 2015”.

Acknowledgement

Photo: Himalayan Balsam © Copyright Keith Williamson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Himalayan Balsam was introduced to gardens in England as a cultivated plant in the nineteenth century but is now the dominant plant on many riverbanks.

Planning guidelines limit our ability to develop local infrastructure, say councillors

Planning policy having an impact on Section 106 funding

Viability criteria means councils are losing millions

March 13th 2015

The Infrastructure Act 2015, which received Royal Assent last month, has amended the Planning Act of 2008 to reduce “red tape” for nationally significant infrastructure projects. The Government says these amendments and other provisions in the Act “will make it easier, quicker and simpler to get Britain building.” However, local authorities are saying that a number of issues arising from national planning policy guidelines are having an impact on their abilities to develop local infrastructure.

Many of those issues are concerned with Section 106 agreements. Currently Section 106 enables Local Planning Authorities to seek contributions from developers to mitigate the harm of developments on local infrastructure, such as highways and recreation, and to provide affordable housing. However, changes to planning policy announced last December have limited the use of Section 106 to major developments (consisting of 10 or more dwellings) and have brought in an exemption for developers who want to turn an empty building into private housing. Two local councils are taking legal action against the Government in the first case whilst developers as well as council planning officers have urged the Government to scrap the policy in the second – see our news item “Government housing policy under attack from developers and local councils” for more details.

A further criticism of planning policy guidelines has come from councillors and planning officers at Salford City Council. The criticism concerns the requirement that Local Planning Authorities should give due regard to a project’s viability when assessing contributions under a Section 106 agreement. The guidelines also state that developers should be able to secure a 10% profit on projects. The Manchester Evening News reports that in some cases developers have argued that Section 106 payments would make their projects unviable and have threatened to renege on their proposals. Derek Antrobus, Assistant Mayor for Strategic Planning at Salford City Council, accused the government of rigging the planning system in favour of developers because of these rules on project viability.

“We have to be realistic. If we asked for the full contribution, the developers would simply walk away.”

The councillor’s comments came after the authority was forced to waive a contribution of £1.8 million for a development in Salford, consisting of a proposal to build 614 apartments on a four-acre site formerly occupied by a multiplex cinema at Clippers Quay. According to the council’s policy, the developers should pay £2.5 million in Section 106 contributions as part of the Clippers Quay agreement, but they will pay just £700,000 because councillors say the project would otherwise be unviable, “with predicted profits lower than first expected.” The £700,000 contribution will go towards a new footbridge across the Manchester Ship Canal, connecting the apartments to the new Trafford Wharfside Metrolink station once it is completed.

Salford City Council’s planning committee gave the development planning permission, but one councillor abstained from the vote because of concerns over the Section 106 contribution, with a difference of £1.8 million between the prescribed amount and the figure that was finally agreed. Another major planning application was deferred pending additional information on housing. The developers in this case want to build 995 homes to rent in four blocks on the Chapel Wharf site in Salford next to the Lowry Hotel. Section 106 contributions for that development should be £3.5 million, but council officers say they will accept just £798,000 towards improving public space.

A spokesperson from Salford City Council told the Manchester Evening News: “We have to be realistic and ensure some financial benefit to the city from enabling these schemes to go ahead. If we asked for the full contribution, the developers would simply walk away. It’s national policy that all councils, including Salford, have to take the viability of any development into account and, if Section 106 money would prevent the development from being viable, then councils must waive the request for Section 106 money. We test applicants’ viability assessments independently and robustly, but in many cases the reality is that if we applied Salford council’s policies to the letter and ignored viability, there would be no development – so no new homes and no new jobs. The council would be left with nothing – not even reduced Section 106 contributions because the development would just not happen. It’s not an ideal situation but our hands are tied – and it’s better to have some Section 106 money and new homes and jobs than nothing at all. We do include ‘clawback’ clauses in our section 106 agreements, so that we can reassess viability once the development is built to see whether more contributions are required.”

Acknowledgement

Photograph: “No 3001 Manchester Metrolink tram” © Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. As part of a £12 billion programme of investment in local economies, the Government promised £18 million last year to improve the Metrolink transport system in Manchester. See our news item “Growth Deals will invest £12 billion in local economies”.

Groundwater in Karst – International Conference

Birmingham UK hosts international conference on groundwater in karst, featuring presentations, workshops and field trips

March 12th 2015

The University of Birmingham is hosting an international conference in June 2015 on groundwater in karst. The conference will include three days of oral and poster presentations from Monday June 22nd to Wednesday June 24th with an optional mid-conference field trip to local underground limestone mines visited by a canal barge. As an alternative to the mid-conference visit, there will be optional workshops for practitioners on “Fluorescence in Karst groundwaters” and “Software tools for modelling carbonate waters.”

There is also the option of a pre-conference workshop on Saturday June 20th designed specifically for practitioners on “Groundwater in carbonate rocks” plus the option of pre- and post-conference field trips to three contrasting karst groundwater systems: the Cretaceous chalk, the Jurassic limestone and the Carboniferous limestone.

The conference will be organised around four main themes:

  • Lithological, structural and stratigraphical influences on karst groundwaters
  • Modelling karst groundwater systems
  • The ecology of karst groundwaters
  • Human-karst groundwater interactions

The conference is sponsored by the British Geological Survey, the Hydrogeology Group of the Geological Society of London, the British Cave Research Association, and the GB Chapter of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH). The conference also incorporates the annual meetings of the IAH Karst Commission and the Union Internationale de Spéléologie (UIS) Commission of Karst Hydrogeology and Speleogenesis.

Field Trips

The conference includes the opportunity to visit a historic limestone mine in the West Midlands and to explore the features of three contrasting karst groundwater systems: the Cretaceous chalk, the Jurassic limestone and the Carboniferous limestone. The field trips are scheduled as follows:

Sunday June 21st – Groundwater in Cretaceous carbonates: “The Cretaceous Chalk Group is Britain’s most important aquifer providing over 50% of the potable water supplied to London and the south-east. The field trip will visit an area with stream-sinks, dry valleys, springs and boreholes and discuss the groundwater hydrology.”

Tuesday June 23rd – Dudley canals and historic limestone mines: “This is an opportunity to use the oldest surviving industrial canal tunnel in the UK, work for which began in 1775. The host rock is the Silurian Wenlock or Dudley Limestone, the original type area for rocks of this age. There has been little research into the hydrogeology of the area and this specially arranged tour through the canal will facilitate examination of the rock structure.”

Thursday June 25th – Groundwater in Jurassic carbonates: “The Jurassic carbonates are Britain’s third most important aquifer. The field trip will focus on the Oolitic limestone which exhibits many karst features, including dolines (sinkholes), dry valleys and stream-sinks.”

Friday June 26th – Groundwater in Carboniferous carbonates: “Massive limestones of Dinantian age, belonging to the Carboniferous System, crop out extensively in northern England, the Peak District, North Wales, South Wales, the Forest of Dean and the Mendip Hills. Commonly known as the Carboniferous Limestone, they contain the most complete assemblage of surface karst landforms and the largest underground drainage networks in Britain. The field trip will traverse the Peak District karst and includes visits to two contrasting tourist caves and a spectacular dry valley.”

For further information including registration details, see “Karst Groundwater at Birmingham 2015”.

Photograph:

Creative Commons Licence
Limestone Pavement, Yorkshire Dales © Copyright Anthony Bloor and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Yorkshire Dales is one of those areas in the UK made up of Carboniferous limestone. Other large areas include the Peak District, the northern Pennines, the edges of the Lake District, the Mendip Hills, and parts of South Wales. Natural sinkholes in these areas produce the typical features of a Karst landscape, characterised by hundreds of relatively small depressions that seen from the air can give the appearance of a lunar landscape. About 10% of the world’s surface is made up of karst topographies, and karstic features are also common in the UK on the chalk of south-east England, on salt in the centre and north-east of England, and particularly on the gypsum that underlies parts of the east and north-east of England, such as the areas around Ripon and Darlington, and the Vale of Eden in the north-west.

Infrastructure Act 2015

Infrastructure Act will make it easier, quicker and simpler to get Britain building, says Government

March 11th 2015

The UK Government’s Infrastructure Bill received Royal Assent last month and is now the Infrastructure Act 2015. The Act encompasses transport, energy provision, housing development and nationally significant infrastructure projects. In a press release, the Government says the new legislation “enshrines new measures to make it easier, quicker and simpler to get Britain building.” The Act amends the Planning Act 2008 to reduce “red tape” for nationally significant infrastructure projects and also sets out an investment strategy for cycling and walking.

On transport, the Infrastructure Act 2015 will turn the Highways Agency into a government-owned company, Highways England. The Government says the new arms-length company will be more accountable to Parliament and to road users. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “A key part of this act will be the creation of Highways England, which will for the first time use long-term sustained funding to deliver the government’s roads investment strategy, worth £15 billion, to deliver more than 100 schemes between now and the end of the next Parliament… Through the creation of Highways England we expect to see savings to the taxpayer of at least £2.6 billion over the next 10 years.”

On energy provision, the Act gives local communities the right to buy a stake in renewable energy infrastructure projects and enables the creation of an “allowable solutions” scheme, designed to provide a cost-effective way for house builders to meet the zero carbon homes obligation. The Act also includes measures to enable the extraction of domestic shale gas, which the Government says “has the potential to create jobs, makes us less reliant on gas imports from abroad, and helps us to tackle climate change, all within one of the most robust regulatory regimes in the world.” The measures include rights of access for works on land deemed to be “deep-level land” (at least 300m below the surface) and provisions for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

On housing development, the Government aims to increase the amount of brownfield land available for house building by again reducing “red tape” and enabling surplus public sector land to be sold more quickly. The Act introduces Mayoral Development Orders which will operate in a similar way to Local Development Orders but are designed for the particularities of London and are intended primarily for complex sites that cross borough boundaries – see our news item “Infrastructure Act gives new powers to Mayor of London”. Delays on projects that have been granted planning permission will be reduced by a new “deemed discharge” provision. Further measures to assist developers include provisions that enable the Land Registry to provide new services and improve access to data.

The Infrastructure Act 2015 also introduces new powers to control and eradicate invasive non-native plants and animals. Invasive non-native plants and animals present a significant threat to ecosystems and can also damage property and infrastructure. The legislation gives the relevant environmental authorities in England and Wales the power to issue species control orders which will make it possible to compel landowners or occupiers to carry out control or eradication operations, or allow them to be carried out by the issuing authority.

For full details of the Act, see the GOV.UK legislation website at “Infrastructure Act 2015”.

World’s first energy-generating tidal lagoons planned for UK

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon ready to go, says Tidal Lagoon Power

March 9th 2015

Tidal Lagoon Power (PLC) has announced plans to build a series of six energy-generating tidal lagoons in the UK. The first in the series, Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, is currently awaiting a decision from the Planning Inspectorate regarding consent following a three-month examination of the planning application. In a separate development, the company is currently in negotiations with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) over how much it can charge for its power and whether the scheme would provide value for money for energy consumers.

Plans to build the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon moved one step further last month with the announcement that the £1 billion project had reached its investment target of raising £200 million from two UK institutional investors. The financial services company Prudential agreed to invest £100 million in the scheme last October, whilst investment management firm InfraRed Capital Partners announced last month that it too would be providing £100 million for the scheme. Water Briefing reports that up to 26 banks are ready to provide the remaining £800m needed to complete the financing.

According to BBC Wales, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon is expected to generate 500GWH of electricity every year, enough to power nearly all the homes in Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot. Tidal Lagoon Power says that the Swansea Bay lagoon could be built in two years and would last up to 120 years. The scheme would be able to power around 155,000 homes and help the UK meet its carbon reduction targets by saving more than 236,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

The Swansea Bay Lagoon will harness tidal energy by capturing incoming and outgoing tides behind a giant sea wall and using the weight of the water to power turbines. If the plans are agreed, a sea wall shaped like a horseshoe will be built to contain the new lagoon. The sea wall will reach more than two miles out to sea and stretch more than five miles along the bay, from Swansea docks to Swansea University’s new campus on Fabian Way.

Writing for BBC News, Roger Harrabin explains how a tidal lagoon generates electricity. Turbines capture energy from two incoming and two outgoing tides a day, he says, and are expected to be actively generating power for an average of 14 hours a day. The lagoon will operate a system similar to a lock gate to alter the water level either side of the sea wall. When the tide starts to rise, gates in the wall are closed and water builds up outside the lagoon. When the tide is full outside the lagoon, the gates are opened and water rushes past the turbines to fill up the lagoon. When the tide turns to go out, the gates are shut to hold the water inside the lagoon. As low tide is reached outside the wall, the gates are opened to generate power again as water flows through from the raised water level in the lagoon.

If it goes ahead, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon would be the first such scheme in the world and establish a blueprint for the series of six lagoons that Tidal Lagoon Power has planned for the UK. The company says that the six lagoons could generate 8% of the UK’s electricity over 120 years for an initial investment of £30 billion. As well as Swansea Bay, the proposed lagoon sites are situated at three other locations in Wales – Cardiff, Newport, and Colwyn Bay – plus one in Somerset and one in West Cumbria. The Cardiff Bay lagoon could include up to 90 turbines set in a 14-mile breakwater around the bay. A planning application for the project is expected in 2017. If approved, it could be generating power by 2022.

Swansea Bay is reckoned to have the second highest tidal range in the world, according to the CEO of InfraRed Capital Partners, who recently agreed a £100 million investment in the scheme. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey also said in a recent news story that Britain has some of the best tidal resources in the world. “Tidal lagoons could provide 8% of our electricity needs, replacing foreign fossil fuels with clean, reliable home-grown electricity,” he said. “That’s why it’s important we consider what might provide the best value for money for bill payers.” On whether the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon would be approved, he told BBC News: “I can’t make a decision on this yet because discussions are ongoing. But I’m very excited by the prospect of tidal power. We have got some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world and it would be really useful if we could harness some of that clean energy.”

The Planning Inspectorate has until the 10th of March to decide if it recommends the project or not, then it will be passed over to Ed Davey who will have three months to reach a decision. The planning application is now in the final stages of the National Infrastructure Process, according to which the relevant Secretary of State is the main decision maker on all national infrastructure applications for development consent.

However, the government must also agree a price for the power generated by the lagoon before work can start, and negotiations are still ongoing. The cost of generating power from the Swansea project will be very high and the Citizens Advice Bureau has registered its discontent with the likely cost, but Tidal Lagoon Power says subsequent lagoons will be able to produce electricity much more cheaply. The cost would be funded by electricity bill-payers under the existing government scheme to promote home-grown, low-carbon energy.

For further information on the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, see the developer’s website “Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay”.