The Severn Barrage

This motion in favour of a re-appraisal of the Severn Barrage was put to Council 21st March 2006 by Cllr Mark Wright and was PASSED.

The Motion

This Council notes:

  1. That the problem of global warming gets worse by the day.
  2. That the Severn Tidal Barrage with adequate shipping lock-gates could generate 2000 MW of renewable energy per year, equivalent to 3 nuclear power stations, or 10 million tonnes of coal; as well as providing wider economic benefits to the Bristol area.
  3. That the proposed barrage was blocked in previous decades primarily by environmental concerns in the estuary; but that this predated the realisation of the numerous and consequential environmental problems we all now face from global warming - many of which would be countered by the barrage.

This Council resolves therefore to instruct the leader to write to the Secretary of State for the Environment, urging her to launch an urgent reappraisal of the Severn Barrage project; and to the MPs of Bristol, Cardiff, Newport, Weston, Woodspring and Northavon, asking them to do the same.

Speech to the Motion

Thank you Lord Mayor.

I've made some effort to make sure the technicalities of the Barrage were aired before today, as it's clearly impractical to attempt to explain such a project in five minutes. I'd like to emphasise for clarity that the motion before you calls on the Government to reappraise the Barrage. It's such a huge and complex issue, and we don't know every environmental consequence yet.

If the reappraisal concludes that a tidal flow fence or some other structure would be better, then great - build that! If tidal current power becomes cheap and efficient, the Barrage would not stop the rest of the Bristol Channel being used for such plans.

A reappraisal will look at all these issues. But I'm going to be open with you: if there is a reappraisal I hope it returns positively - Personally, I am in favour of a Severn Barrage. I am in favour of it because too often as a nation now we take the easy path. Today, another generation of nuclear reactors is the easy path. But that would win us no admirers, no new friends, no respect for our vision. It would instead earn us the scorn of our more ambitious neighbours, who aim higher than us; and it would earn us the total contempt of our grandchildren, to who we would leave the grim legacy of nuclear-waste.

In Brunel's time we were the greatest engineering nation the world had ever seen! And now? And now we are the nation that scrapped Concorde. We are afflicted by a desert of ideas; a drought of vision; a poverty of dreams. Now we are scared by projects like this - scared of the complexity; scared of the magnitude; scared of the uncertainty.

As a nation we love the underdog because we love to see people rising to an overwhelming challenge; this is at the core of Britishness. But now too often we shy away, rarely rising to the challenge. We have become un-British. And let me say, this unBritishness is nothing to do with immigration, or political correctness, or violence on TV; it is because we have lost our drive, we have lost our ambition as a nation.

You don't build strength by walking easy paths - you build it by climbing mountains. And this project is a giant mountain. JFK put this principle into words better than any, when he said:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our skills and energies; because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.

Fellow members, it is in our interests as Bristolians to support the Barrage, because it will benefit Bristol in terms of jobs and infrastructure, and it will be a tourist magnet.

It is in our interests as British people to support the Barrage, because it will be a global beacon of progress, and of our "can-do" approach to the future.

But most of all, it is in our interests as humans to support the Barrage, because it will help avert the disaster of global-warming; single-handedly taking Britain 30% of the way towards its 2020 renewable energy target; and setting a global example of how a modern, responsible nation can act.

Lord Mayor, Brunel would have relished this project. The magnitude of it surpassed even his dreams back then, but if he was alive now he would be in this chamber wanting to lead it from the front. In Brunel's absence, as his bicentenary approaches, the city of Brunel can help put the Severn Barrage back on the agenda - and do him proud.

Fellow members, don't poke Brunel in the eye, not on his birthday - support the motion!