It was George Stephenson, the railway engineer, who first suggested a Morecambe Bay crossing as a route for the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway.
More than 180 years after he surveyed the route, the crossing is on the verge of becoming a reality at last – albeit not as he envisaged.
Northern Tidal Power Gateways (NTPG) is behind an £8.6bn project for tidal gateways across Morecambe Bay and the Duddon Estuary, linking Heysham to the Furness peninsula and Millom.
Part embankment, part bridge, the crossings would carry a dual carriageway and 200 20MW turbines to generate tidal electricity to supply 1.5m homes.
The scheme would be a game changer for Barrow and Millom.
Alan Torevell, of NTPG, said: “We want to get across to people that what we are proposing isn’t just about generating electricity from the tide, we’re about improved connectivity and jobs and growth in the economy.
“At present, the journey from Millom to the M6 at Lancaster is 56 miles and takes over an hour. Our tidal gateway would more than halve the distance and cut the journey time to 24 minutes.
What we are proposing isn’t just about generating electricity from the tide, we’re about improved connectivity and jobs and growth in the economy.”
He puts the annual saving at around £400m a year in reduced fuel consumption and improved time efficiencies.
The project came to public attention when NTPG staged an exhibition and consultation last year.
That brought more than 2,000 written responses, the vast majority favourable. Since then all has gone quiet but the scheme is far from moribund. Work has been proceeding behind the scenes.
The project received a boost when former Energy Minister Charles Hendry published his report into tidal lagoons in January.
Alan said: “There’s a section in the report that says there are credible alternatives to tidal lagoons and it mentions three – one of which is us.
“As a result of the publicity, we’ve had interest from construction groups offering to help us with feasibility studies.”
The global engineering and construction consultant Mott MacDonald is now on board.
Alan said: “The first stage was an evaluation of what we’ve done to see if there are any no-noes that make the project unfeasible.
“They came back a month ago to say there are no no-noes and our figures are credible. They are now evaluating the impact on the local economy.
“By the end of August Mott MacDonald will have produced their stage two report, which is the final report before we start to seek planning consents and set out the precise parameters of what we are going to do.”
An economist by training, he taught economics for several years before turning to finance, founding a successful wealth management business in Manchester.
There’s a huge amount of interest from institutional investors such as pension funds. There is no reason why we can’t make this look attractive to potential investors.
He sees the future of the Northern Tidal Power Gateways project as a 50-50 public/private partnership.
He said: “There’s a huge amount of interest from institutional investors such as pension funds. There is no reason why we can’t make this look attractive to potential investors.”
He has assembled powerful allies too.
He said: “I had a talk with [former Chancellor] George Osborne in his capacity as chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and he is supportive.
“We’ve also had discussions with Transport for the North who are offering to work with us. We have a meeting scheduled with the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, and we are talking to the LEPs.
“George Aggidis, professor of energy engineering at Lancaster University, has been hugely supportive.”
The tidal gateways could also carry power lines from the proposed nuclear power station at Moorside, Sellafield, as a cheaper alternative to National Grid’s plan to put them in a tunnel under Morecambe Bay.
And it could help mitigate flooding problems, if there is another Storm Desmond-type event, by holding back the tide to allow water from the Kent, Leven and Duddon catchment areas to escape more easily.
But realistically, how quickly could the crossing come to fruition?
Alan said: “It will take two years to get planning permission from where we are now, and after that five years to build it. The critical part is how quickly you can build the turbines.”
Cumbria Chamber of Commerce has supported the project from the outset.
If the Government is serious about having an industrial strategy, this is exactly the sort of scheme they should be supporting.
Chief executive Rob Johnston said: “There was strong interest in a Morecambe Bay crossing when we consulted Cumbrian businesses on the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper.
“It has potential to be a transformational project for Furness and West Cumbria, as well as making a valuable contribution to the UK’s energy mix.
“If the Government is serious about having an industrial strategy, this is exactly the sort of scheme they should be supporting.”
Businesses that want to show their backing can sign an online petition, started by Lancaster University student Harry Fenton, which calls on the Government to fund the project.
However, he supports tidal energy as an alternative to fracking, while NTPG sees them as complementary energy sources.
He said: “A Morecambe Bay bridge would be a huge economic boost, benefiting the North West. It may be very expensive but it is time that the focus of economic investment is moved out of the South East, and the benefits of a bridge would be long term.”
To sign his petition, click here.© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce