From Sihwa Lake to the Mersey Estuary: will Rotheram’s tidal power dreams come to pass?
A new agreement has brought the Mersey Barrage scheme back into the conversation — plus the rest of your weekly briefing
Dear readers — It was another weekend of staring fixedly at the enormous (imaginary) stock exchange-style digital boards that hang on the walls at Post HQ as we watched our subscriber count crawl up to and above 700. We now sit on 715, a fine number without question, but is it as fine as a nice round 750 to see the year out? If you're not a member of the heroic 715, go on, it’s Christmas after all…
Today’s big story is about tidal energy. Metro mayor Steve Rotheram has signed an agreement to share information with the operators of the world’s largest tidal power scheme in South Korea. His ambitions are huge. He wants to build a tidal power barrage in the Mersey with the capacity to generate cheap and clean energy for over 100 years. “IT’S TIME FOR TIDAL” screams the city region website. But is the ambition grounded in reality?
At the weekend Mollie and Jack took a journalistic step into the great beyond — like all of the intrepid reporters before them who braved war zones or went undercover to infiltrate drug-smuggling gangs — by going to Hooters for wings. The new venue on Water Street has caused quite a stir, with one councillor describing it as “archaic and chauvinistic”. Make your own mind up by reading the piece.
Last week we sent out two great pieces to members. On Tuesday David compiled his first ‘writer’s edition’, a tour of Liverpool past and present which ranged from “Vale Park’s elaborate fantasy world of fairy castles, troll hotels and driftwood beasts” to electronic band Ladytron and beyond. It was “a perfect combination of flâneur, observer, nostalgist, epicure, cynic, progressive, and jolly good fellow” in the eyes of one commenter. A taster:
“But walking through the city at Christmas time, on those days when the sea fret refuses to shift, almost makes me think I could. If I just took a wrong turn down Houghton Street I’d find my way snaking up the grand staircase in George Henry Lees to the toy department.”
Then on Thursday, Jack spoke to 10 staff and ex-staff at The City of Liverpool College, who made serious allegations of bullying from members of the college’s senior leadership team, financial mistakes and trade union victimisation. The college vehemently denied all of the accusations. You can read that one here.
🎄 Last call for our Christmas book deal! We’re sending a free copy of the new book North Country: An anthology of landscape and nature (worth £14.99) and a personal Christmas card to anyone who either buys an annual gift subscription for a friend or buys an annual membership for themselves by midday on Thursday (December 15th). It features some fantastic local writers — like David Cooper and Paul Farley — as well as a piece by our regular contributor Dani Cole and lots of writing from the Brontes and other northern greats.
If you’re buying a gift sub, your friend will get a year of high-quality journalism and you will get something too: a copy of this lovely book in time (postal strikes allowing) for Christmas, along with a personal card from the Post team. You can schedule your gift sub to be emailed to the recipient on Christmas Day. Just click here.
If you’re a new member buying an annual sub, you will get the book and a card welcoming you to our community. Click here to join now. You’ll be supporting the future of independent journalism on Merseyside.
This week’s weather
This week’s weather forecast is sourced from the Met Office and it’s for Liverpool.
The big story: Is the tide turning for Steve Rotheram’s ambitious clean energy scheme?
Top line: Steve Rotheram has signed an agreement with South Korea’s state water company, which operates the largest tidal energy scheme in the world. It’s being billed as a step forward for Rotheram’s Mersey Barrage, which would — if constructed — generate clean, cheap energy for a million homes for 120 years, helping the UK to achieve its net zero targets in the process. The project is highly ambitious. But is it ever going to happen?
The science: The barrage would be situated either in the Mersey itself or further out in Liverpool Bay. It is estimated it could provide around 7% of the UK’s total current power generating capacity. It’s technical stuff, but essentially the Mersey Estuary has the second-highest tidal range in the country (behind the River Severn) meaning that a lot of power could be generated by releasing water from high tides through turbines as the tide falls.
The numbers: The bad news is it’s extremely expensive: £6 billion or there abouts. Government funding has been deemed unlikely, but Rotheram has admitted that without it the project is probably not viable. “This is an achievable and realistic scheme but nobody's taken it seriously,” he said recently.
When we reported on the city region’s economic prospects back in August, there was an overwhelming sense from multiple well-connected sources that the scheme was something of a pipe-dream. One source told us that without government help it would require “a global coalition of major pension funds willing to put staggering amounts forward on a 100 year pay back” due to the enormous risk and scale of the engineering challenges the project would entail. Another source was frustrated at the over-ambition given that scaled-back tidal projects were already underway in the rest of the UK:
“You've currently got active projects of this nature going on in Wales, Cornwall and Scotland. What Rotheram should be doing is focusing on attainable projects that will aid our growth and not these fantasy ideas that no one really believes will happen.”
The Russian factor: We wrote that piece in August, six months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but since then the war’s effect on the global energy situation has inarguably been brought into sharper focus. Russia is the world's third-largest producer of oil and second biggest producer of natural gas. The invasion has highlighted the UK’s reliance, or what many would call over-reliance, on foreign energy. The extraordinary hike in energy bills we saw before the government subsidised them in September was a direct result of this reliance. It’s something Rotheram clearly sees as an argument in favour of his project:
“The case for tidal has never been clearer — both for our economy and our planet, especially given the importance of energy security following Putin’s murderous invasion of Ukraine.”
Sihwa Lake: The agreement with K-Water has been billed as a step forward. The Sihwa Lake tidal range power plant, which K-Water operates, generates the equivalent of 862,000 barrels of oil a year. It’s important not to get carried away here. The new agreement doesn't mean anything cost-wise, which means it doesn’t address the ultimate obstacle. It’s purely for the purpose of sharing knowledge. But it does, at the very least, show that Rotheram’s team are serious about exploring avenues to make this happen.
Bottom line: Initial work has been done to scope out what the project would require. This includes various complex processes such as hydrodynamic modelling and more obvious things like cost analysis. The arguments are strong ones: making net zero far more attainable, decreasing our reliance on foreigh energy, 5000 new jobs. But the price is astronomical. There’s no doubt Rotheram and his team believe this could be their crowning achievement in office, but at this stage — at least for the private sector sources we spoke to — it’s very much a ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ situation.
Your Post briefing
St Helens North MP Conor McGinn has had the whip suspended by the Labour Party after an investigation was launched following an internal complaint. McGinn is a key ally of party leader Sir Keir Starmer, serving as deputy national campaigns coordinator. He played a pivotal role in Labour’s strong local elections results in May, in which Labour won back “red wall” voters and triumphed in the Wakefield by-election. He said: “I have not been told the details of the complaint but I am confident that it is entirely unfounded. I strongly reject any suggestion of wrongdoing.” McGinn’s party membership has also been suspended until the matter is resolved.
Criminals are using “burgers and warm coats” to recruit children into county lines drug gangs in deprived areas of Merseyside and the rest of the country, say experts. According to The Guardian, head-teachers are also fearful that the cost of living crisis, compounded by cuts to youth support and public services, is making it more difficult to ensure the safety of pupils. Joe Caluori of crime and justice consultancy Crest, said that “sophisticated” gangs are benefiting from government cuts. “They target hopeless, poverty-stricken places,” he said. “It’s really easy to groom young people in these places, which are public service deserts.” And Sara Cunningham, director of Diversify, which runs anti-grooming workshops, told the Observer: “You’ve got children whose families can’t afford school meals, and they are outside, hungry and cold. [Then] someone in nice trainers turns up and gets them a burger or a warm coat.”
Duane Williams, a primary school teacher in Old Swan who was homeless aged 15, has recorded a Christmas charity record to raise money for Alder Hey Children's Hospital. Williams told the BBC he “had problems at home [and] in school” as a teenager, and his dyspraxia and dyslexia made things hard for him, but “music and performing arts became [his] escape.” Alongside his teaching, he now runs a stage school — Cutting Strings — in his spare time, and his new song, called Invisible Strings, is about “holding onto dreams”. According to Williams, the stage school children can’t believe it’s really on Spotify.
John Lennon’s toilet has been put on display at Liverpool Beatles Museum. The blue and white floral porcelain structure, described as both "a very, very fancy toilet” and “John’s john”, once sat in Lennon and Yoko Ono's Berkshire home. It has been loaned to the museum by Gary Honniball, who paid £1,000 for it at auction from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1989. Roag Best, who owns the Beatles Museum, speculated that it might now be the most expensive toilet in the country.
Home of the week
They say every day is a learning day, but that could hardly be more true than when you live in a school. This three bedroom house in the historic Sefton Village, near Aintree, is a converted 19th century girls’ school with a mixture of original and modern features. And it’s only a short walk to the iconic Punchbowl pub. It’s going for £425,000.
📽️ Whether you prefer the life-affirming magic of the ending to It’s a Wonderful Life or the borderline murderous treatment of two small time crooks by a young boy in Home Alone; SEMusic have got all the iconic Christmas films covered — in song form. For three hours their choir will belt out the very best Christmas movie songs in the ornate surrounds of the St George's Hall’s Concert Room. And for just £14.
🎙️ Warrington’s own Rick Astley is never gonna give Christmas up at The Philharmonic this week, as he brings some swing to town. Alongside a big band, Astley will perform some Christmas and swing classics in the historic venue. Tickets start at £39.50.
🎄And another Christmas pick, not least because finding non-Christmas picks on 12 December is an exercise in intense digging and we simply don’t have the time. This one’s a family affair. Fantasia's Christmas Chronicle at The Barnyards in Widnes: “a merry 45 minute experience for all the family filled with sacks full of fun including Christmas Crafts, magical letter writing”. All the information you need is here.
📸 Alongside their headline exhibition of the 2022 Sony Photography Awards, which is well worth a look, Open Eye Gallery has announced something closer to home. In their Digital Window gallery, they are showcasing the artistic work of many of the volunteers that help the gallery run, including photography, painting, and more! It’s running until 22nd December and you can find more info here.
Photo of the week
Not the most equal division of labour for this Santa duo as thousands of runners take to the streets for the annual Liverpool Santa Dash; a 5-kilometre fundraising run for charities, including the Alder Hey Children's Hospital. Photo by Dave Rushen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.
Our favourite reads
4000 words on devolution sounds steep, but this long-read from our friends over at The Mill in Manchester is one of the most informative and powerful pieces we’ve ever read on the topic. After Gordon Brown produced an extensive report on how a Labour government could bridge regional inequalities and the Economist released a front page showing the Angel of the North on rocket-boosters prompting the UK to “free the North,” the topic seems to be front and centre of many debates. Indeed, Labour’s ideas are in their own way an answer to Boris Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda. The piece speaks to numerous experts on the topic, including former advisor to Tony Blair Mike Emmerich and Diane Coyle, a professor of public policy at the University of Cambridge. At its heart is one question: “Does anyone have the courage to end the capital’s disastrous hoarding of power?”
It was Veronica Ryan’s name emblazoned on Radio City Tower last week, and it was Veronica Ryan who stood in the grandeur of St George’s Hall and delivered a victorious speech to the great and good of the art world, after winning its most prestigious prize: the Turner. But, as this Guardian interview notes, her arrival at the top was preceded by years in the wilderness. Ryan is 66 — making her the oldest ever Turner winner — and recalls her days spent making art from any old tat she could find: “stacks of fruit and veg packaging, the sort of moulded trays you see holding avocados at the market”. But as the piece says, “she continued making”.
Josh Coates takes us through a thoughtful, personal perspective on interactive art embedded in place, in his review (well, more four mini reviews) of arts festival Take Over 2022, for Northern arts website Corridor8. When reviewing The Cloakroom, Jenny Gaskell’s pop-up exhibition on the ever-more-arty Prescot High Street, Coates sits on a fluffy pink blanket listening to Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ and watches the rain “batter a statue of a lizard through a window” (and eats a McVities Gold Bar). It’s uniquely written in how personal each review is, and the piece shines a light on some great art around the city region away from our cluster of famous city-centre galleries.
Letters from readers
A perfect combination of flâneur, observer, nostalgist, epicure, cynic, progressive, and jolly good fellow. I started work almost sixty years ago on Tithebarn Street so I got off the bus in Dale Street and walked up Leather Lane buying my paper on the way. It’s heartbreaking to see how this special little alley has been desecrated in recent years. Happily Rigby’s is still standing and I’ll be in there tomorrow with my primary school (yes!) class from 1951, celebrating still being here and drinking to absent friends, as well as noting what a splendid start we sons and daughters of the Alt were given by St Ally’s and the Liverpool Corpy housing department, ‘Our city-centre tree deficit, the genius of Ladytron and a little about me’, Kevin Donovan
Hooters sounds horrible (speaking as a Pensioner!) and I wouldn't presume to comment on the desirability of it, however more concerning is the horrendous noise pollution its inflicted on local businesses including the Italian Cookery School, Flour Will Fly which is having to compete with a terrible dinhttps://fb.watch/hk5TQ9SG8R/, ‘De Beavuvoir at the breastaurant’, Wendy Bennett
I feel I need to protest that I've drank in Wetherspoons with a friend who has a doctorate and is fluent in Russian and ancient Hebrew. We might not have been discussing literature the whole time to be totally honest though, ‘De Beavuvoir at the breastaurant’, thewilk