AN ambitious project to build tidal barrage crossings over Morecambe Bay and the Duddon Estuary is gathering momentum.

A company called North West Energy Squared (NWE2) unveiled its plan during an exhibition in Barrow in May and has been gaining support around the region.

Now it has revealed more details behind the multi-billion-pound vision - which has been described as a “game changer” for Cumbria.

It would cut the travelling distance from Heysham to Millom by 50 miles – taking it down from 71 miles to 22, along a safer, faster route.

The journey time would be reduced from 1hr 52 mins to 22 mins, with the average speed increased from 30mph to 60mph. Fuel consumption could be reduced by more than 80 per cent.

In the bigger picture, NWE2 is exploring the possibility of building the “tidal gateways” across the six main estuaries on the North West coastline.

The crossings would feature dual carriageway roads which would make a continuous route from south-west Scotland to north Wales.

Harnessing the power of the tide with underwater turbines, NWE2 says the six crossings could generate around 20 million MW of green electricity a year – enough to power more than five million homes.

However, the connections over Morecambe Bay and the Duddon Estuary form the key part of the proposals, as they are at the centre, and would be the first part of the jigsaw.

NWE2 says it could create substantial economic growth through greater connectivity, stimulate job creation, and generate enough renewable and reliable electricity for 1.7 million homes per year.

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It is estimated the project in Cumbria would create 10,000 jobs with above-average pay during construction, and a similar number after completion.

The next stage is the production of detailed feasibility report, which will cost around £500,000.

Alan Torevell, chairman of NWE2 and the man who came up with the idea, has now formed a management committee featuring experts in tidal turbines, environmental research, planning, and PR.

The 78-year-old, who hopes he will live to travel along the Morecambe Bay barrage himself, said: “I can’t stress it too much - if we get this thing going, and I increasingly think we are going to, then we will be creating the first major combination of infrastructure and tidal energy production in the world."

NWE2 is optimistic the project will be included in the Cumbria infrastructure plan being put together by the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership.

The company hopes the vision can tie in with National Grid’s preferred option for upgrading its infrastructure between the proposed new nuclear power station at Moorside, near Sellafield, and the grid in Heysham.

That is likely to involve large, new pylons being built along the west coast, around the Duddon, and under Morecambe Bay via a tunnel.

The pylons, in particular, have attracted significant opposition. And NWE2 believes it could attract public favour by getting National Grid on board and using the proposed tidal barrages to carry the power cables across the two estuaries.

NWE2 says it would take two years to undertake the preliminary investigations in Cumbria.

Construction would then take around seven years and the first electricity would be generated in the mid-2020s. 

A spokeswoman for National Grid said it was open to the idea, saying: "We have always said that we would be willing to consider the possibility of routing our connection using infrastructure (bridges/tunnels/barrages) built by other companies, but we do need to meet our connection date of 2024.

"The timeline we are currently working to will see us apply to DECC for consent to build the connection in 2018 and then to start construction in 2019."

It is estimated the infrastructure in Cumbria would cost around £8bn, and funding from four sources have been considered for contribution over an eight-year period.