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The Severn Bridge doesn’t need a new name

April 11, 2018

Naming places and objects can be a political minefield.  Whether it’s a polar exploration ship or a Bristol shopping centre, letting the public suggest a name risks frivolous recommendations while an elite committee might choose a name that causes offence.  Now the Secretary of State for Wales has caused an upset by announcing that the Severn Bridge, or at least the newer Second Severn Crossing is to be renamed the Prince of Wales Bridge when the tolls are abolished later this year. He’s turned a good news story on the tolls into a public relations disaster worthy of the ‘Thick of It’. What on earth was Alun Cairns thinking? You can imagine the scenes in Gwydir House on Whitehall, where Wales Office officials, press officers and the hapless minister himself are all blaming someone else for the mess.

The original suspension bridge was opened in 1966 and has been known as the Severn Bridge for over fifty years. A graceful piece of engineering, it must be the most visually arresting link between two countries in the world. Strictly speaking though, the Severn Bridge is entirely within England, linking the two Gloucestershire banks of the river Severn.  The rather more utilitarian bridge over the Wye has to be crossed in order to arrive in Wales. The bridges over the Severn and the Wye need no name other than the rivers that the cross, just like the Humber and Forth bridges.

A case could be made for a different name for the newer bridge, opened thirty years after the original.  But that case should have been made in 1996.  It wasn’t, so for the last 22 years it has had the rather ungainly name of Second Severn Crossing.  It’s more of a causeway than a bridge with four fifths of it a concrete viaduct, with the bridge as the central span. Maybe it should have been called the Severn Causeway in 1996.  Renaming it the Prince of Wales Bridge now seems a bit late.

Perhaps Mr Cairns was trying to make his mark in his inconsequential role.  Devolution has been in place for Wales and Scotland since 1999.  The Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament have legislative competence over a wide range of areas.  Yet there are still UK cabinet positions for a Secretary of State for Wales and Scotland. There can’t be much for the Wales Secretary to do. Ironically, even the bridge tolls decision was out of his hands as the bridges are managed by the England Department of Transport, headed by his awful colleague Chris Grayling.  If Cairns had wanted to both show his relevance and make a popular intervention he should have got Grayling to scrap the tolls before the Easter holiday, rather than on some indeterminate date later this year. I’m glad the tolls are going, I launched a campaign for their abolition four years ago, with my Welsh Liberal Democrat colleagues.

Cairns’s bridge naming intervention shows that Westminster still doesn’t respect devolution.  The Second Severn Crossing has one leg in devolved Wales and another in the West of England, which elected its first Regional Mayor (regrettably not me…) last year. Neither the First Minister of Wales nor the Mayor appear to have been involved in the decision. If they had been I would assume that they would have suggested at least some form of public engagement, rather than a fait accompli.

Personally, I think the first bridge should remain as the Severn Bridge, Pont Hafren in Welsh. The 1996 bridge should be called the Severn Causeway, or Sarn Hafren in Welsh.  But there are alternatives:-

Prince of Wales Bridge – I gather Cairns means this name to be a 70th birthday present for Prince Charles.  On balance, I admire Charles and think he’s made a positive contribution in his difficult role of understudy to his mother. The Prince’s Trust does excellent work with young people.  But the bridge name is non-specific, rather like a lot of pubs with the same name.  The name will upset republicans on either side of the border and will upset nationalists in Wales as it refers clearly to the prince of the English crown, rather than a native Llywelyn or Owain.

St David’s Bridge – after the patron saint of Wales.  Maybe the 1966 bridge could be the St George’s Bridge (as it’s all in England) and the two could be known as David and George. This might upset secularists as well as multi-culturalists.

The Red Dragon Bridge – after the national flag of Wales.  Even if this name isn’t adopted, I think more Welsh flags should be flown on the Welsh side, maybe where we now have the clutter of the toll booths.

Other national symbols such as the daffodil or leek don’t sound right for a solid structure like a bridge.

Famous Welsh people – with priority for South Walians such as Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Dylan Thomas or Ivor Novello. If we widen the net to all of Wales then it should be the Lloyd George Bridge, after my political hero.

I think what this proves is that bridges are best named after the river that they cross, or after the town or village in which they lie.  Naming a bridge after a person, especially a living one, is asking for trouble. And there must be better birthday presents to give to Charles.

 

Petition

A petition has been launched, against the renaming of the bridge.  At the time of writing 35,000 have signed it. https://www.change.org/p/alun-cairns-mp-stop-the-renaming-of-the-severn-bridge-to-the-prince-of-wales-bridge

 

 

 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Frank Asinine permalink
    July 13, 2018 12:29 pm

    I think we should rename the Severn Bridge the One Hundred and Twenty Eight Bridge. At the rate of inflation since 1966 (when the bridge first opened), £7 would have skyrocketed to £128.80. I think it’s outrageous that this hasn’t been reflected in the name of the bridge and will be writing a strongly worded letter of complaint to my local councillor in Hartlepool.

    It’s one rule for multi-million pound suspension bridges and another for the rest of us and I for one won’t stand for it any more.

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