Swansea, famously a subject of poetic caricature by Dylan Thomas, is now the portent of a new industrial revolution in Wales, an omen of prosperity and hope.
Once described as an “ugly lovely town….crawling, sprawling…by the side of a long and splendid curving shore”, the city now finds itself at the forefront of marine renewable energy development.
The Tidal Lagoon in Swansea Bay, given planning permission in 2015, would have a capacity of 320 MW, generate thousands of jobs across a wide supply chain and stimulate £300 million of regional investment over the three-year construction period. The only thing needed is a bill of clean health from the Hendry review – and an agreement on the financial support needed to commence construction.
For Wales, see Swansea
A lagoon in Swansea Bay would generate low-carbon, pollution-free electricity, revitalise the local economy, create superb marine leisure infrastructure, and contribute to an understanding of how lagoons can support flood defences around the coastline of the UK.
But impressive as the proposal for Swansea is, it is just a pilot for a far more ambitious programme in Wales and beyond.
Lagoons at Cardiff, Newport and in north Wales could be an order of magnitude larger than the Swansea project. All proposed sites are within commuting distance of some of Wales’ worst areas for multiple deprivation.
The activity on constructing this string of large infrastructure projects would keep many thousands of people employed for years – as would the leisure, activity and hospitality developments which would surely follow. The Cardiff Bay development demonstrates the economic development potential of such infrastructure in spades.
But the concept is so much bigger than Wales. With projects proposed across the UK and internationally, the scope for a whole new global industry cannot be dismissed – if the concept can first be developed and proven closer to home.
The global reliance on electricity generation by fossil fuel imposes large health and financial costs on people, communities and public services.
A positive result from the Hendry Review would help shift the balance away from fossil fuel and would signal to the rest of the world that the UK is indeed committed to the investment that will be needed to play our role in meeting international obligations.
Dylan Thomas also wrote of burning bridges, that they make a very nice fire.
But if we burn our bridges on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the future will be a little colder and a little darker.
This article was first published in Construction News