Major blow for firm behind tidal lagoon project as it loses legal ruling
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
A company which wanted to build the UK’s first ever tidal energy lagoon in Swansea Bay has lost a legal ruling.
Tidal Lagoon (Swansea Bay) Plc sought a High Court declaration to say that it had fulfilled a development consent order for the £1.3 billion project by starting work within five years, as it was required to do.
This was disputed by the UK and Welsh Governments and also Swansea Council, which said it hadn’t.
A High Court judge has now concluded that Tidal Lagoon Plc had not begun the development, and that this in turn removed the rationale for another declaration it was seeking.
Part of the hearing was about the difference, or otherwise, between the words “begin” and “commence”.
The ruling leaves Tidal Lagoon Plc’s already slim hopes of building the renewable energy scheme even slimmer.
Things looked different in June 2015 when it was awarded a development consent order for the Swansea project by the UK Government. The following year it carried out ground investigation and surveys works.
But a failure to secure a financial package of support from Westminster in 2018 left the lagoon looking unviable.
The UK Government’s subsequent commitment to a “net zero” economy renewed Tidal Lagoon Plc’s hopes and it carried out a number of pre-commencement requirements.
But with the clock ticking, one of its directors wrote to the UK Government in May 2020 to request that the development consent order should be extended because it was shortly to expire. This request was refused.
Tidal Lagoon Plc swiftly pressed on with some demolition and site-clearing works at Swansea docks which, it claimed in a second letter, meant the development had begun within the five-year deadline. The council and two Governments said it hadn’t.
The ruling by Judge Harman QC said Tidal Lagoon Plc’s interpretation was “unsatisfactory” and not one which the 2015 consent order had intended.
The ruling noted the company’s two letters but didn’t place didn’t place any weight on the first.
In a response to the ruling, Tidal Lagoon Plc said: “We are currently reviewing our options with our legal team.”
In the meantime, separate proposals for a Swansea Bay tidal lagoon – plus housing, battery manufacturing and storage, a solar farm and data centre – have been developed.
Details of the planned project, known as Blue Eden, were unveiled in October.
It is being led by Bridgend-based firm DST Innovations and does not involve Tidal Lagoon Plc.
Blue Eden is expected to take 12 years to deliver in full, create 2,500 permanent jobs, but it will require a development consent order among other permissions.
The electricity generated by the lagoon and solar farm would be used on site, but there would be scope for some of it to be exported onto the grid.