BALFOUR BEATTY'S involvement in the controversial Ilisu Dam in Turkey has come under renewed scrutiny after environmentalists held demonstrations against the project this week.
British Government support to Balfour Beatty in the form of guarantees to loans worth £200M was expected to be given earlier this year. This followed a review of the Environmental Impact Assessment for the £1bn scheme by the Swiss Government (NCE 4 March).
But trade minister Brian Wilson admitted on Friday that the Export Credit Guarantee Department is refusing to underwrite the loans until a new independent study of the project has been carried out.
'Because of its sensitivity we have commissioned additional research to assess the background to the project,' he said.
The contractor is leading a multinational consortium to build the dam. The team includes Impregilo, Skanska and Turkish companies Nurol, Kiska
and Teksen. The 1,200MW hydroelectric scheme has come in for strong criticism because it will flood a 136km stretch of the Tigris valley populated chiefly by the region's Kurdish population.
Environmental campaigners and human rights groups claim the project will displace 20,000 people and cause irreparable damage to the environment and the historically important town of Hasankeyf. They also fear it will cause political instability in the region because Turkey will be able to control the water supply to neighbouring Syria and Iraq.
'We are very confused as to how the British Government can claim to have an ethical foreign policy when it continues to support projects like this,' said Friends of the Earth policy director Tony Juniper.
But a Balfour Beatty spokesman hit back at the criticism, describing hydroelectric power as beneficial to the environment because it does not produce any greenhouse gases.
'Unfortunately the creation of reservoirs inevitably leads to some human disruption but we are not aware of any significant local unrest,' he said.
'The governments of all the contractors involved are working with the Turkish government to ensure the resettlement and compensation process is handled sensitively and correctly.'
'As far as Syria and Iraq are concerned the dam will actually double the amount of water available for irrigation in the summer.'