Monday, 23 February 2015

Peterborough Arms, Melksham Link & an appeal for help at Studley Grange

We have received planning approval for the initial work to be undertaken on the Peterborough Arms. This includes a new entrance from the car park into the end of the skittle alley wide enough for wheelchairs and the provision of a toilet for the disabled. These two items will make the pub DDA compliant, a legal necessity before opening any part of the pub. Permission also includes a new window in the skittle alley area to bring in more natural light and an enlarged car park. Skittles’ fans can be reassured that the new door and window will not affect the alley!  

Now we have to raise the funds to carry out the work. We were grateful to have received two donations recently- one from IWA Avon and Wilts Branch, one from IWA central as the Wilts & Berks share of the 2014 Grand Draw monies and a cheque from the auctioneers – proceeds of the sale of the bric-a-brac that had been left in the pub when we purchased it. A bid for some funds has been submitted to Malmesbury Area Board (yes we are just in their area) to be decided on 4th March and we have also asked Dauntsey Parish Council for a contribution. I am looking around for some other grants to apply for.  We have also put out a call for volunteers who are skilled trades people to help with the plumbing, carpentry, and tiling of the disabled toilet.

On Tuesday night Paul Lenaerts and I attended the Waterways Working Group in Melksham to talk through the plans for Melksham. Representatives from Semington Parish Council were included as they had previously not been able to attend local talks about the plans. There was good support for our plans and a desire to get started soon!

On Wednesday evening the Trust Finance and Admin committee met at Wichelstowe, courtesy of Waitrose, for their monthly meeting. As usual it was well attended with a lot on the Agenda. Among the items discussed was Studley Grange, the new landing stage at Wichelstowe, Peterborough Arms, an IT review, maintenance policy, ideas to promote membership and above all having the finances to do it all!

Before I “put down my pen” I must say that I am disappointed not to have received any enquiries about the vacancy for a project leader for the Studley Grange Wildlife Trail that was advertised in Dragonfly. There is some funding available for this part time opportunity – I am looking for someone who can work with volunteer groups, schools and the local community with an interest in wildlife and ecology to promote this very special site.  

Kath Hatton

Monday, 16 February 2015

‘The journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step’

In the ‘Wilts & Berks journey of 1000 miles’ some more small steps this week.  The Studley Grange (Biffa) site inched closer to work starting with three significant steps:-
 Two contractors were interviewed to examine some of the details of their submission to excavate the 1km section of the canal. The work is not straightforward as it includes a piled section, and careful planning and methodology to prevent pollution getting into the stream that currently occupies the canal bed.  The Trust expects to make a decision to provisionally award the contract next week.  It is possible that a small contract will be issued to the successful contractor to carry out time sensitive preliminary works.
The project here is expected to cost over £1/2m and the provisional nature of the contract is necessary as the work is dependent on obtaining a grant from the land fill operator’s tax credit scheme.  The application has successfully passed the second stage hurdle and the bid will be finally assessed at the end of March.
Wiltshire Council have confirmed that the information required to satisfy the planning conditions that prevented work from starting has  been now supplied  and the conditions have been discharged.

Swindon Borough Council Local Plan has  been judged to be ‘sound’  by the Planning Inspector which means that the Council can ratify the Plan in the next few months which will make it official policy until 2026.  The restoration of the Wilts & Berks Canal is part of this policy and an agreed route is protected from other development.
Featuring in the Local Plan is Swindon Eastern Villages where up to 8000 more homes will be built.  The Eastern Villages provide a new alignment for the main line of the canal, and a small project team is currently assessing details of the route. One of the first areas where a developer is seeking to provide some of these homes is Lotmead Farm adjacent to the Wanborough Road.  Following initial meetings last summer, the Trust is seeking full engagement with the developer to include the canal construction as part of the current crucial planning discussions.

Elsewhere in Swindon a new team is starting work on assessing the route of the canal from Mouldon Hill to Cheney Manor with the aim of confirming the outline design for the project.

In Melksham, Wiltshire Council’s Area Board had asked for an update on the Melksham Link project. Chris Coyle & Paul Lenaerts made a short presentation to the meeting on Wednesday and answered questions from Councillors and members of the local community.

You may have heard that there is a General Election happening in May!  On the same day there are also Local Elections in Swindon and the Vale of the White Horse.  The Trust intends to seek views from the candidates on how they might support   the Wilts & Berks Canal restoration and will let you know their responses.  A preliminary to this full assessment was a meeting this week with South Swindon MP Robert Buckland QC.  The Swindon Town Centre proposals for the canal were the single topic for the short meeting and it was agreed that a further meeting would be necessary.

At Pewsham Locks the team have carried out removal of some trees that would have prevented restoration of the structures. Clearance of mature trees is not done without careful thought and where it is unavoidable planting is always carried out to mitigate for the habitat loss.

 No doubt the week ahead will provide more news and it includes the postponed meeting of the Trust's Finance and Admin Team and a presentation to Melksham Town Council on the Melksham Link.


Ken Oliver



Monday, 9 February 2015

A Strong Swindon Flavour - but Progress Elsewhere As Well

Following the meeting last week with the SBC Wichelstowe team, we have been trying to move forward on a number of the topics discussed, starting with the landing stage.  Certainly the management of the local Waitrose store is very keen to see progress, and has all sorts of ideas of how they want to promote the space as part of their Summer activities.  Rod Hacker has been having discussions with the Planning officer to sort out details of the construction, hopefully in the least cost way.  I have been talking to SBC Property Services to try to ensure that the legal licence to use the land that we need is as favourable for the Trust as we can make it.  This is a high priority for us, but it is interesting to see just how much work has to go into what seems to be a relatively simple project.

Another topic we discussed with the Wichelstowe team was starting work on the existing stretch to the west of the lock at East Wichel.  The canal has been built, including piling both sides, but needs dredging out.  We are keen to do this, as we believe it would help with management of the water levels above the lock.  We will need to store the dredged material temporarily until it can be used on the next stage of the development, and to gain the necessary access.  Thanks to some quiet work by Countryside Officer Ken Oliver talking to one of his Swindon colleagues, the necessary permission  has been granted quickly.  So this is another part of the project that we try to move forward on.

By the way, we checked with the SBC team that the work that has been carried out on the canal line south of Waitrose is not going to be a permanent blockage; it has been done to help with drainage during the development phase, and that function will actually be done by the canal when it is restored.

Elsewhere, there was another meeting of the Steering Group for the Dauntsey Lock / Peterborough Arms project.  Following formal Council of Management approval, we can move forward to the next stages.  There was a lot of lively and positive debate about the exact details of what will happen, and no doubt this will continue.  There was also a useful and successful working party, which helped to prepare some areas for sprucing up, and in other cases revealed the extent of some of the problems we have.

We are preparing for a presentation and question and answer session next week at the Melksham Area Board, on our proposals for the Melksham Link, including the Masterplan for the development.  This project is certainly generating a great deal of interest and excitement in the area.

At the other end of the canal some more good news – we have been successful in a bid to Sovereign Housing Association  for £750 towards the preparation and groundworks needed in advance of replacing the bridleway bridge over the canal in Childrey. This is a start towards reinstating the connection between two separate lengths of canal.

Chris Coyle

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Meetings, lots of meetings

Last week turned out to be very busy with a lot of interesting meetings.  We had our regular Land team meeting where discussions ranged over the whole length of the canal. The Habitat Management plan for Seven Locks is in final draft form and this will enable the local branch to work on maintenance/restoration over the next few years managing the site with due regard to all the wildlife. Work by the Land team to acquire leases or agreement to purchase on other sites continues quietly in the background. On Tuesday we met with Hall & Woodhouse to discuss other possible sites on the canal where we might work together and in the evening was the bi-monthly meeting Council of Management, held for the first time at the Peterborough Arms. It was a busy agenda, but we managed to find time for David Stirling to give us an update on the pub and plans for this year. On Wednesday I was looking into some possible European Funding towards the renovations on the pub and Thursday we had a very interesting visit at the Peterborough from Alan and Heather who run the Bell Inn at Lacock. They were very interested and excited by our plans, and since they have a lot of experience, they were very happy to pass on some good ideas. To finish off the week we met with the Wichelstowe team at Swindon Borough Council to discuss all the issues on this stretch. Unfortunately we will not be able to start on the new link between the two stretches of canal until at least the summer as Swindon BC is waiting to engage with a new partner for the development of the whole site, and they will have their own ideas on the layout of the site that we will have to discuss with them.

Hopefully this will be a quieter week – just some branch meetings and the PA Steering Committee. A chance to catch up with emails, meeting notes and some more bids for funds. Speaking of branch meetings, can I highlight the fact that all branches would welcome new volunteers – there are lots of things that they would appreciate some help with.  Swindon in particular would like some extra volunteers to help with the maintenance of the restored sections. If you are interested, just get in touch locally through the Swindon shop or ring or email the office on 0845 2268567 or

Kath Hatton