David Hutchings’ first proposals were printed in October 1982: ‘Restoration of the Upper River Severn’, in which he outlined the history of proposals including 19thC. plans by William Jessop, as well as his own survey with proposals for lock-sites and the formation of a suitable trust to promote the scheme. A.H.S.Waters & Partners, consulting Engineers were approached to provide a detailed plan for presentation to the various bodies involved along the route, with the intention of raising wide support from both communities and local authorities. This was published in 1986, and cost in the region of £30,000 – which was raised by some generous donations.
The design was ‘traditional’ allowing for locks about the size found on ‘broad’ canals, and mainly fixed weirs but including five ‘tilting’ weirs to open in the event of flooding. A similar number of locks was proposed to Jessop’s scheme, although greater knowledge suggested some revision of sites, and further studies. An ‘Economic Appraisal’ of the proposals was also commissioned, from Dr Ian Slicer, which supported the designs, covering all aspects of commercial influence including employment and local planning issues. An Environmental Impact Assessment followed, which was carried out by P.M. Wade of Loughborough University, but unlike the other studies, unfortunately gave opponents a number of themes with which to raise objections – perhaps unintentionally, an example was by posing the question: ‘is the Severn the last untamed river in England?’ In fact the Assessment was fairly thorough, and concluded that overall the environment could benefit with navigation works, although there was clearly an opportunity to learn more about what changes were beneficial and what were not – for example the effect of the loss of some riffles.
Bearing in mind the four-year achievement of the Upper Avon, the opposition, delays and other hurdles subsequently encountered on the Severn proved that this was going to be a greater challenge. The opposition that arose was vitriolic, unprofessional and inaccurate, and unfortunately it attracted the ‘preserve at all costs’ mentality, and discouraged any meaningful dialogue which may have brought about the eventual revisions more quickly, and wasted the members time in preparing lengthy ‘defence’ papers. One example that illustrates this is a cruise organised under the title ‘Bewdley or Bust’ – when several cruisers made the journey from Stourport up to Bewdley on a day when there was enough depth of water, only to be received by a demonstration on the Bridge there which included chanting and throwing of eggs and flour at the boats below. Another was a paper prepared to list all possible objections – which listed almost anything that could possibly be imagined in opposition. These tactics succeeded in the sense that they raised the temperature of any discussion, and gave fuel to many common local people who were not interested in understanding what was being proposed.
A great deal of activity was pursued by the Council of the Trust; meetings, outings, visits, membership recruiting (reaching over 200 members at it’s peak), attendance at Rallies and other events. A list of the officers of the Trust appears at the end of this paper, but not including all Directors and members of Council.
In the 1990s further investigations were commissioned: a Scope for further environmental assessment in ’95, a ‘User Study’ by Ian Walker and Associates in ’98, and also in ’98, a ‘Foundation Studies’ Report by Posford Duvivier – a hydraulic engineering consultancy, who’s brief was clearly set by Ian Walker of the previous study to include new considerations in the proposals. These were to investigate the river conditions and ecology much more thoroughly, and to include implications for both low-flow conditions and flooding. It was these studies which introduced the proposed variable weirs, as fixed weirs were seen to be impediments to improving flood-control, as well as details of several designs of fish-pass which could be accommodated – both of which could be lessons to other schemes of course – even now!
It was the highly variable flow in the Severn, causing a wide range of levels of water at almost any point in the English river, that lead to the consideration of inflatable weirs. Costings also suggested that the use of flexible weirs – either water or air inflated ‘rubber dams’, and enjoying considerable success overseas, would be the most cost-effective system. Several manufacturers are producing such weirs, and several thousand are now in use around the world, with a few in the British Isles. Unfortunately the current British examples are only on reservoirs or small streams, and not on a major river. Being of a somewhat radical design, one can only imagine the comments in local planning and design offices that hear of these proposals. What was basically a lack of experience and unwillingness to try anything of this nature in any English application, turned to a ‘over my dead body’ sort of reaction when members of SNRT (mere amateurs to the officers and councillors) suggested that these might actually help with flood control as well as offer a means of maintaining a ‘normal level’ for a longer proportion of time – thus safeguarding fish stocks in times of low flow.