Monday, 26 May 2014

From Dull and Stressful (but vital) to Much More Fun

Let me start with the Dull and Stressful (but vital) bit.
In last week's blog Ken Oliver mentioned the Examination in Public of the Swindon Borough Council Local Plan for the next fifteen years.  The background is that SBC has set out its plans for the next fifteen years covering virtually everything to do with the town, from housing to transport to the environment, and lots in between. Now a Planning Inspector is examining them to decide whether they are 'sound'.  He has raised all sorts of questions, to which SBC has responded formally.  The Inspector was examining the Plan under twenty or so different headings.  Anybody who wanted to speak could register in advance, and say their piece; I put my name down. 
We decided that the Trust ought to make its voice heard about at least two topics.  The first was the town centre; this covered everything from the regeneration of the centre to office space, to retail space, to transport, and the importance of the leisure and visitor economy.  Naturally I spoke in favour of the restoration of the canal and the huge contribution it could make to the economy, and to the visitor experience in Swindon.
The second topic was Green Infrastructure.  In this case I was able to support the SBC policy on canals in Swindon, which sees them as part of the green infrastructure, and I emphasised what a contribution they could make.
The Inspector will now spend some months weighing all the evidence presented, and come to a conclusion as to the 'soundness' of the Plan.  It is unlikely that he will either reject it or endorse it completely; far the most likely is that he will accept it subject to some changes.  The importance is that the Plan will shape the future development of the town, and we have to secure the inclusion of the canal as much as we can.
As I say, a fairly stressful experience, as I was concerned to do the case for the canal justice, in an unfamiliar environment.  I gather it is much less intimidating than it used to be - the Inspector tried to make it as informal and friendly as possible, in contrast to the previous position when everybody employed barristers, and it was pretty adversarial.

And so to the fun bit.
Today ( Monday)  I had the opportunity to go over to the Chippenham Folk Festival, which the Trust has attended for a number of years.  Standing in the background observing, I was very pleased to see an enthusiastic team of Trust volunteers putting on a good display, talking to many interested people, and running trips on the Damselfly on the river.  An excellent effort to publicise the restoration of the Canal, and to raise some very welcome funds.  Well done the team.

Chris Coyle

Monday, 19 May 2014

Its good to talk

Hot  on the heels of the IWA/CRT workshop described in last  weeks blog  , I was reminded last week of  a training video  made in the 1970's by John Cleese Meetings  Bl***y Meetings- sometimes hard not  to think that  way  on the third consecutive evening arriving home after 10! .
But  there is much going on and  much information to share  -  it  was good to see so many  members at  the Royal Wootton Bassett Branch AGM  and  to  be able to  update everyone there about the work  going on to progress the planned restoration at Studley Grange

Tuesday  was  the turn for  the Trust engineering team to look a some  of the current  issues. Perhaps most  notable was a discussion about  what  policy  should be considered  for maintaining or replacing the  brick arched  culverts that  take  many  water courses under the canal.

Wednesday  a trip to Steam in Swindon  for a session of the Examination in Public  of Swindon Borough Councils Local Plan. The  topic of the day  was  tourism  and the town centre. The Trust  noted the huge opportunity  for  attracting visitors  to a restored  canal. Disappointing that there was  no opportunity to play the Water Adds Value video!
The Trust’s monthly  Finance &  Administration Committee met  in the evening ( affectionately  known as Fin Com) . A new venue for the meeting  - Waitrose’s new store in Wichelstowe where  their  training room is available for use  by  community groups – a nice setting by the canal  and handy  for  any  last  minute shopping!  Some interesting discussion at  the meeting about  what  organisational  structure(s)  will be  required  as the really  big projects  start to  be delivered.

The final  interaction of the week was again  at  Steam  but  this time  a breakfast meeting of Involve Swindon ahead of the day’s main event – a very successful business exhibition. Our opportunity to talk  to businesses keen to make Swindon a  more attractive place  for their workforce


Monday, 12 May 2014

Water Adds Value!

This was the theme of Saturday’s Canal Restoration Workshop in Birmingham organised jointly by Canal & River Trust (CRT) and Inland Waterways Association (IWA). Ken, Chris and myself went along and found it very interesting. The day was a mix of short presentations by different speakers and brainstorming sessions in small groups.  There were  good opportunities for meeting the CRT/IWA people and all the other attendees, who came from a wide variety of other canal restorations. CRT had commissioned a report from Northampton University on the impacts of waterway restoration. This report is available on the CRT website: . There is also a summary version which we will put on our website soon. As you will see the report found that there are huge economic, social and environmental and heritage benefits. Along with the report there is an interesting short video which highlights some of the recent restoration successes. This can be watched at: As you can see CRT is really getting behind restoration now. 

I have now had the draw tickets printed for this year’s main trust draw – same format as last year and drawn at the AGM. This year it is in aid of a second trip boat for the Trust which will be put on one of the other restored sections of the canal. Tickets will be sent out to members with next Dragonfly magazine and also will be available at events all along the canal this summer.

I am pleased to report that work has resumed on the old BW work boat Boswell and is progressing well. This was purchased with funds from Hills Waste under the Landfill Community Fund. As you may know, the team have cut it in two – making a Motor and a Butty which will make it easier to turn.  Lots of welding later they are now painting and doing the electrics. I hear that some of the Bailey Bridge team have joined the original team.  Great projects for hands-on work. The plan is to launch Boswell + one at Pewsham when finished. This may be delayed because of the breach that occurred in the winter storms and which we are raising funds to repair. Always something to raise funds for!
All in all a week of good progress.

Kath Hatton

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Sunshine & Boating

If you are a regular reader of this blog  I am sure you  will have realised that restoring the Wilts & Berks requires  some intense activity from the team, so in putting this week's contribution together  I am currently reminding myself of what all the effort will produce. The Bank Holiday sunshine on our short cruise from Gt Bedwyn to  Hungerford on the Kennet &  Avon Canal has brought  out in numbers  the walkers, cyclists, fishermen, boaters and visitors ( including a pirate party on a trip boat!)  that  will quickly populate  the restored W&B canal.  So with the first swallows (or are they martins?) swooping across the water where some early moorhen and mallard chicks are scuttling amongst the reeds a quick look back at another busy week.

The new Waitrose store in Wichelstowe Swindon has opened up  a new  opportunity for many to  observe the Wilts &  Berks Canal  for the first  time. The Trust  is keen to further explore this  new interest  by  running trips on Dragonfly directly  from the store  and we are seeking a fast track  solution to  install  a landing stage as soon as possible.

It was the same setting ( a trip  on Dragonfly from Kingshill ) where we invited  last Friday some of the senior  managers from Biffa Waste Ltd  to  discuss final  details  of the  planned works to restore the canal at Studley  Grange. We hope that  a view of the ‘finished product’ will now help complete the necessary  process to complete an agreement for the Trust  to lease the canal  corridor and start work when the current planning application is approved.

The Melksham Link project team met  during the week  to  review the current progress of ecological surveys ( the latest was a fish survey in the river)  and other important aspects of the project. While  in the town I  took a look at progress on the new slipway. The retaining walls alongside the ramp are nearly  complete  and with finishing on the approach  expected in the next week or  two, project manager  Paul Lenaerts  is considering a date for  an unofficial opening soon. Behind the scenes the Trust  has made a submission to  Wiltshire Council  to  allocate  a number of sites adjacent to the waterway for development  that  will financially contribute to  the projec.

Finally  apologies  that  once again holiday arrangements  have  made the posting of this weeks blog later than normal.

Ken Oliver