Disconnected Jottings

Keith Gibson continues his round-up of news from the waterways.
(Please note: Literary commitments, especially a new book about the Narrow Canal due for publication at the end of the 2010, has meant the Jottings have taken a 'back seat' for the time being).

(Spring 2009)

Cotswold Canals
A special meeting of Stroud District Council was held on 16th December to consider funding of the restoration of the six miles of the Cotswold canals from Brimscombe Port on the Thames and Severn Canal through Stroud to Stonehouse on the Stroudwater Navigation.

You may recall that this £17.5m scheme to begin large-scale restoration on these important but largely derelict cross-country waterways was to have been led by British Waterways with major funding provided principally by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the district and county councils, the Cotswold Canals Trust and the Waterways Trust, but that budgetary problems caused British Waterways to withdraw with little advance warning last year, leaving their partners in the lurch. The Heritage Lottery Fund subsequently agreed that its £11.9m contribution would remain available if the district council took over as lead partner. Before that could happen, the council had to fill the funding gap left by the departure of British Waterways.

After more than three hour's debate, the Councillors at the meeting voted to invest a further £2.3m in the scheme, in addition to the £1.5m to which the council was previously committed, and to formally accept the various grant offers on the table. The additional funding will come from the sale of Council-owned property, notably a site in Dursley town centre which will be sold for a Sainsbury's supermarket.

The council has decided, however, that the £7m additional cost of re-excavating and restoring the canal basin at Brimscombe Port cannot now be met until there is a developer in place for the land surrounding the new basin, when it is hoped that this cost will be found largely by the developer or from grants as part of the total development scheme. In the current economic climate developers previously interested in bidding for this scheme are waiting for happier financial times. The basin here will, incidentally, be overlooked by the offices of the publishers of my waterways books Pennine Dreams and Pennine Pioneer and my third book, The Buildings of Huddersfield (which, coincidentally, has just been reprinted with a significant amount of new material found since the original publication in 2005. Copies of this, like the waterways titles, are available from the HCS office, post free!)

Although the vote in favour of the canal scheme was overwhelming and the scheme had been the subject of support and professional publicity and lobbying for many years by the hugely effective Cotswold Canals Trust, inevitably there were dissenting voices, perhaps largely from parts of the district away from the route of the canal. Mike Thompson, the Society's former consultant, let me have the December 22nd issue of Stroud Life which quotes one Councillor describing the canal scheme as 'an extremely expensive cycle track and palatial duck pond.' Why do they never learn from experience elsewhere or do they think that Stalybridge is 'up north' which is 'too grim' to even consider?

Sleaford Navigation
A new £160,000 lifting footbridge across the River Slea in the centre of Sleaford was hoisted into place on 29th December. The centre section of the bridge, supported by a bow-shaped girder, will lift to allow boats to pass when the navigation is ultimately restored into the town, although the bridge is currently isolated from navigable water by five unrestored locks. The new bridge replaces a low-level fixed bridge. The work has been managed by Lincolnshire County Council, part funded by a £50,000 Landfill Tax scheme together with money from the Lincolnshire Waterways Partnership, the Sleaford Navigation Trust and the Inland Waterways Association. A slipway for trail boats and a winding hole will follow.

Uttoxeter Canal
The Caldon and Uttoxeter Canals Trust has been offered a grant of £5,000 by the Inland Waterways Association to help pay for an initial feasibility study into the restoration of the Uttoxeter Canal.
The original alignment of the canal between the Caldon Canal at Froghall through Oakamoor to Alton was protected as a result of being filled in as early as 1849 to build the Churnet Valley railway (itself long since closed and with proposals to also extend the existing heritage railway).

I walked this section many years ago with a push chair when our children were young and we stayed at the Landmark Trust's Alton Station holiday cottage opposite the back gate to (but, mercifully, out of site of and ear-shot of) Alton Towers. Beyond Alton, a large part of the route via Denstone and Rocester to Uttoxeter can still be traced on the ground but a new route has had to be identified in parts, particularly at Rocester, where the JCB excavator company would be unlikely to welcome a restored canal through their site, and at Uttoxeter, where a new terminal basin will be required.

It is hoped that a successful outcome of the feasibility study will give the two district councils (Staffordshire Moorlands and the Borough of East Staffordshire) sufficient faith in restoration of the canal to protect the route in their forthcoming Local Development Frameworks and to allow serious planning for restoration to begin.

Grand Union Canal, Slough Arm
Also being considered for inclusion in a Council's future plans is a scheme to build a new canal from the five-mile long Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal directly to the River Thames. Proposed by the Friends of the Slough Canal and the Inland Waterways Association, this scheme has been included for public consultation in the Council's Core Strategies, a central part of the Local Development Framework process, as a document to guide the Council's planning policy until the year 2026. This document says the Council will support the building of the new canal 'provided it is technically feasible, economically viable and environmentally sustainable.'

Members of the Council have been to Swindon to see the route proposed to reinstate the Wilts and Berks Canal through the town and to Liverpool to see how the new Liverpool Link is being slotted into the existing dockland environment. Maybe HCS should invite them to also look at Stalybridge to see the transformation of this area and the benefits a waterway can bring.

Keith Gibson