Wales politics

Archives reveal Thatcher's reluctance to back Cardiff Bay

Pierhead building in a derelict Cardiff Bay circa 1977
Image caption Cardiff Bay waterfront - down at heel and derelict before regeneration

The strength of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher's initial opposition to Cardiff's docklands regeneration has been revealed by government papers.

Documents from 1986 show she tried to avoid committing to the Cardiff Bay barrage scheme - stating it "just hasn't been worked out enough".

Welsh secretary Nicholas Edwards threatened to resign over the issue.

It was 1999 before the barrage finally opened after lengthy political battles.

Cabinet papers now made public include a written note from the now Lord Crickhowell to the Conservative leader, warning: "If agreement cannot be reached I will find myself in a position of very great difficulty."

Image caption Margaret Thatcher's hand-written note raising opposition to a Cardiff barrage scheme in 1986

Lord Crickhowell previously revealed the resignation threat in his memoirs, although the newly-released papers shed new light on the battle he fought with the Treasury - and the prime minister.

With Mr Edwards seeking to announce the scheme in a major speech, Mrs Thatcher said in a hand-written note to officials: "We must not be committed.

"The scheme just hasn't been worked out enough and I fear an elaborate and expensive presentation will be seen to be premature."

The £200m barrage, seen by Mr Edwards as a vital part of plans to regenerate Cardiff's docklands area, was controversial at the time and opposed by some Labour MPs, including future First Minister Rhodri Morgan.

The cabinet papers suggest the lack of fully-costed plans and secure private funding saw both the prime minister's economic affairs private secretary, David Norgrove, and Mrs Thatcher herself argue against the project.

The documents suggest opinion changed after a member of the Downing Street policy unit told the prime minister of an "impressive proposal to develop a new waterfront in Cardiff".

Image copyright Keystone/Getty Images
Image caption At the height of her leadership - delivering a speech to party conference in 1986

Papers also released by the National Archives show Mrs Thatcher has ordered a review of funding in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland - amid claims that public spending in Scotland was too high.

The releases also revealed how the Welsh secretary urged the prime minister to reject any plans to build a bridge linking England and France, based on his own experiences of using the Severn Bridge and the Cleddau Bridge in Pembrokeshire.

Finally, a gift of moon dust from the United States sparked official concern about when it should go on display in Wales, the archives disclosed.

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