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27 June 2018
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London calling

The UK government's approaches to Heathrow and the Swansea Tidal Lagoon speak volumes

In a few weeks, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is to publish its first National infrastructure assessment, and the clue for government should be in the first word of that publication.

That is because events this week do not appear to fit with this government's statements on 'rebalancing' the economy away from London and the south east.

On Monday, Business Secretary Greg Clark announced that the government would not be backing the innovative Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. Cynics would argue Clark timed his announcement well, safe in the knowledge that it would not make a dent in the national news because of another infrastructure decision in Parliament: the vote to back a third runway at Heathrow.

While the government may defend its decisions in these two areas based on cost, it is hard to ignore the perception that this gives: 'We will back London -centric projects, but not those that require a degree of support and are unlikely to benefit the capital.'

It is particularly sad for the Swansea scheme, as it offered the chance for the UK to genuinely innovate and take a lead in what could become a major field of energy production in years to come. Concerns over cost also seem strange when the Welsh government had pledged money to help keep energy costs at the same rate per kilowatt hour as the Hinkley Point nuclear plant.

However, it is also a massive shame for the people of Swansea. Had the project gone ahead, it would have had a long-term economic boost to the area that would go far beyond energy production. Leisure and tourist facilities would no doubt have enjoyed a huge lift in the area.

Indeed, one only has to travel a few miles east to see what could have been. Cardiff Bay has become a thriving destination in the years since a barrage was built across it, turning a literal backwater into one of the most economically successful places perhaps anywhere in the country.

None of this is to suggest that the government should have backed Swansea over Heathrow. Indeed, the fact that independent commissions on both supported their go-ahead suggests that both should have been given the chance to succeed.

But taking one forward while scrapping the other also gives the impression that these are binary decisions: one or the other. That should certainly not be the case.

In the meantime, Swansea waits for what could happen next, while London awaits the barrage of protests, planning objections and legal wrangling as opponents attempt to halt Heathrow expansion.

On a related matter, has anyone see our Foreign Secretary lately?

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The UK government's approaches to Heathrow and the Swansea Tidal Lagoon speak volumes

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