Hutton announces support for Severn Barrage

John Hutton today attempted to prove the Labour government does have a vision on the environment.

The secretary of state for business said Gordon Brown would be bold in increasing the use of renewable energy.

But boldness appeared to refer to the means rather than the ends, with government targets for renewable energy use criticised in the past for a poverty of ambition.

Last night, former minister Patricia Hewitt said Labour needed to connect with green issues to appeal to younger voters. She told an Independent fringe meeting that ecological justice must become part of the party’s DNA.

Addressing the Labour conference in Bournemouth, Mr Hutton said the government would not oppose opportunities to use low carbon energy sources, or shrink from taking the critical decisions on future energy supply.

He said the government “will drive forward with delivering a step change in our use of renewable energy. We must lead at home as well as abroad. A country of change must be prepared to embrace tomorrow’s energy sources.”

This translated as a show of support for new investment in nuclear power stations.

Mr Hutton attempted to sweeten the pill by pledging support for non-nuclear renewable energy sources as well.

He announced a feasibility study into the potential for a Severn Barrage, which would exploit a hydroelectric dam filled by the tidal waters of the Severn Estuary.

The Severn Barrage is a “truly visionary project” and could supply five per cent of the UK’s renewable energy supplies by 2020, he told delegates.

The study will consider the project’s impact on the natural environment and local social and economic effects, as well as how it could be financed.

Mr Hutton told the conference businesses would help to meet the challenges of climate change.

He said: “I will consider how best we can equip British companies to maximise the potential of new markets in green business.

“A thriving manufacturing sector – supplementing the blue and white collar jobs of today with a new wave of ‘green collar jobs’ tomorrow.”

Mr Hutton told delegates the government could not secure the UK’s manufacturing base by turning back the clock. Instead manufacturing must embrace future markets and new opportunities.

His comments echoed those of Richard Lambert earlier this month. The head of the CBI told the TUC conference the need for green technologies could create a new prosperous era for British manufacturing.