Plans for a huge tidal gateway across the Ribble Estuary would generate enough power for more than 18,000 homes and give the Fylde coast a direct link road to Southport, bosses behind the scheme say.
The proposal, revealed this week, is part of a wider North West project that could see six barrages built, from Prestatyn all the way to Stranraer.
The scheme – dubbed North West Squared – is already past the conceptual stage, with a scale model on show last week at the International Festival of Business in Liverpool.
The model will go on public display across the region in the coming months.
There are major backers for the project, including developers Peel Holdings, but the estimated cost of the entire project is some £40bn, and funding has to be identified.
Alan Torevell of the North West Business Leadership Team, is the man behind the plans.
He said: “We are past the conceptual stage of the project.
“Combined, the scheme would create the same amount of power as two and a half Heysham nuclear power plants, but it is also about improving hugely our road connections across the North West.
“It has been two years’ work to get here and we believe this will win Government backing.
“Imagine a road journey from Southport to St Annes – you have to go through Preston, but this barrage would cut that journey to two miles.
“It would improve transport links and help lorry drivers travel further distances, something that is great for business.
“It would reduce transport bills by billions of pounds over the years.”
The ‘ebb and flow’ barrage would generate electricity as the tide came in and out and could see the loss of 20 per cent of the mud flats in the estuary – although no testing has ever been done on such a barrage before.
The Ribble estuary barrage alone is expected to create:
l 2,600 construction jobs a year for 10 years;
l 100 permanent jobs after construction is finished;
l Generation of 0.08TwH of electricity per year – enough to power more than 18,000 homes;
l A reduction of 36 minutes in the journey time to Liverpool.
l An extra level of sea defences and flood control.
The project is working with wildlife groups and the National Oceanographic Centre to look at the effect on wildlife – something Mr Torevell wants to see kept to a minimum.
He added: “We’re working with people at Lancaster University and many other groups on the project, and the reaction so far has been excellent from those at Liverpool.
“We’re looking forward to showing the plans off across the North West.”
John Moxham, chairman of St Annes Chamber of Trade, said: “It’s something I would cautiously welcome.
“Until we get to the consultation phase it is difficult to say too much. They are talking about a road link, something which has been spoken about for years.
“If they can combine this with a system which generates energy it can only be a good thing.
“Many people would sit around and say why have we not done this before?
“I think it will be good.
“There are possibly issues with the Ribble Estuary in terms of wildlife, but it could be good for tourism. Southport needs this link as much as we do.”
Andy Fallow, chairman of the Lytham Business Partnership, added: “I think it would be positive.
“I know it has been bandied about before – it would be amazing if it got through.
“France is one country which has made this system work.
“It would be a great idea.
“It is just about getting planning. If it could come off there could be a massive benefit.
“From the wildlife point of view it’s not so good.
“At a recent council meeting about the estuary, a man spoke who is trying to get a hovercraft system across to Southport. He spoke of the hurdles he has had to jump through – there are quite a few environmental aspects to consider.”