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Fear that attempt to rename Severn Bridge could ‘reignite nationalism’ in Wales

10 Dec 2020 4 minutes Read
The Severn Bridge. Picture by Andy Dingley (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Adam Postans, local democracy reporter

A proposal to rename the Severn Bridge after the Queen could “reignite arguments of toxic nationalism” on the England/Wales border, councillors fear.

South Gloucestershire Council passed a motion on Wednesday night (December 9) to write to transport secretary Grant Shapps to request the change in honour of the monarch’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022.

The Queen opened the crossing, now part of the M48, in 1966, and will celebrate 70 years on the throne in 14 months’ time.

But the council’s opposition Labour group abstained during the vote on the motion, tabled by Conservative Cllr Matthew Riddle, after party deputy leader Cllr Ian Boulton said it could spark long-forgotten hostilities between the two nations.

Cllr Boulton said: “My dad was on duty as a police officer at the opening of the Severn Bridge.

“Dad was responsible for staying close to hand to the Gloucestershire chief constable with the technology of the day – a large radio backpack – to keep in touch with HQ because threats of terrorist attacks from the Free Welsh Army were real and everyone was on a state of alert.

“We forget about The Free Welsh Army, however, genuine sensitivities remain as real today as they were in 1966, which could be hurtful, divisive and to the detriment of the efforts over the decades and to the very institution this proposal is seeking to honour.”

He said the name change could “embarrass” the Queen and the council because of a lack of consultation with Welsh politicians and the Lord Lieutenant of Gwent.

Cllr Boulton said that instead of “igniting feelings of patriotism” it could “reignite arguments of toxic nationalism on both sides of the border”, which would make the idea a “poisoned chalice” for Buckingham Palace.

Lib Dem group deputy leader Cllr Maggie Tyrrell said: “I don’t think anyone would deny that the Queen has served this country with the utmost dedication for a remarkable 70 years and that her Platinum Jubilee should be marked and celebrated in some way.

“What is worrying about this motion is that it’s completely uncosted.”

She said a Freedom of Information request last year revealed Highways England spent £216,000 to change the signs of the Second Severn Crossing when it was renamed the Prince of Wales Bridge to mark the heir’s 70th birthday and 60th anniversary of assuming the royal title.

Cllr Tyrrell said: “People might wonder why we are suggesting spending an unspecified but undoubtedly large amount of public money on naming a bridge for whatever reason.

“If public money is to be spent, we would prefer to see it spent on a project that is of benefit to the community which, to be frank, the name on a bridge isn’t.

“Much as I respect the Queen and all that she’s done, there might be better ways to spend that sort of money in marking her reign.”

 

‘Once-in-a-generation’

Severn Vale ward Cllr Riddle said the monarch was a true inspiration and renaming the Severn Bridge after her would be an ideal tribute.

He said: “I was quite critical of Highways England when they changed the Second Severn Crossing to become the Prince of Wales Bridge.

“If this goes forward, they are going to have to reflect very carefully about how much money they spend on this project.

“Hopefully lessons have been learned.”

Cllr Riddle said he had left the wording of the new name “quite loose” in his motion so it could be decided on after careful consideration.

“If the secretary of state is keen on this idea, I would expect him to launch a full consultation, not only on the name but also on the need for it,” he added.

Members passed the motion by 32 votes to three, with 23 abstentions.

A common misconception is that the suspension bridge links England and Wales, but it actually stretches between South Gloucestershire and the county of Gloucestershire over the Beachley peninsula, with an additional smaller bridge over the adjacent River Wye taking motorists into Wales.

The Queen will become the first British monarch to reach the milestone on February 6, 2022.

Last month the Government announced it would be celebrated with a “once-in-a-generation show” and a programme of events over a four-day bank holiday weekend in June 2022.

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