Tuesday, 31 March 2015


I am sure I have mentioned a few times that progress on restoring the Wilts & Berks Canal seems to be at the same speed as eventual travel on it will be - slow!

However I can report that at Studley Grange work has now started on the preliminary clearance of the site so at last the project is beginning to take shape.  If you have an opportunity to publicise the £for£  Funding Appeal this would help to consolidate the first phase for the scheme http://bit.ly/1w23LrJ .  Thank you if you have already made a contribution.

We await with many fingers crossed for news about the application for a grant from a Landfill Tax credits operator to allow us to start the main part of the work.

Also some progress to report on the trip boat landing stage at Waitrose in Wichelstowe.  The revised plans have been approved and we expect consent for the planning application this week.  Subject to final confirmation a contract will be let after the Easter Break for work to start as soon as possible.

The Melksham Link team (greatly helped by WBCT’s MCC Branch) have had a busy week (and weekend) at the Melksham Neighbourhood Plan launch event at the Assembly Hall on Friday and Saturday.  The team were keen to be able to engage with the local community to explain further the proposals in the recently launched Melksham Link Landscape MasterPlan  http://www.wiltsandberkscanal.org.uk/projects/melksham-link/melksham-link-masterplan

 We have just been notified that the Swindon Local Plan has now been officially adopted by Swindon Borough Council. www.swindon.gov.uk/localplan . This Local Plan is following on from Wiltshire Council’s Core Strategy and now each of these plans has a policy to protect the route of the Wilts & Berks to allow restoration.  The situation in Oxfordshire (Vale of White Horse DC) is more complicated and would probably take several blogs to explain. Enough to say that there is much more work to do in the coming months to achieve the same result.
A project that rarely gets a mention is the Templars Firs Extension at Royal Wootton Bassett.  Part of the delay has been that the project manager has been unwell and part that the site is crossed by a number of water and sewer pipes which may need to be moved.  There has been some difficulty in finding their exact location.  Many thanks to Tony Key who has now temporarily taken on the project management and has made some proposals to Wessex Water to find an acceptable technical solution on site.
We often talk about partnership and cooperation and Kath and Chris took the opportunity this weekend to meet representatives from a number of canal restoration groups at the Southern Canals Association meeting on Sunday.  Hosted by the Cotswold Canals Trust the site visit included some of the significant ‘Phase 1a’ restoration projects in the Stroud Area.  The restoration sites are very impressively organised, with a strong focus on hitting a site hard until it is completed. CCT use an enormous number of volunteers, many from their own membership(now over 8000), Waterway Recovery Group and  a lot of local groups.

It is also clear that the close involvement of Stroud District Council in the project is of great benefit.


Ken Oliver

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A waterway for everyone

One of the interesting things that I observe happening is the increasing recognition of the wider part that the canal can play in the life of the communities through which it passes.  I can see this happening in the canal Trust itself.  For many years the canal Trust has been focused, very understandably, on the restoration of the canal as an end in itself, but gradually we are having to come to the realisation that, while that may be enough to fire the enthusiasm of the members of the Trust, and the wider canal movement, it is not enough in itself to gain the wide-spread support among the whole community that we need if we are to achieve restoration in a reasonable timescale.  We have to convince the majority of the population that the canal will bring benefits to them.  Fortunately we can show that the canal will in fact bring a vast range of benefits - economic, social, environmental, educational, and in personal well-being.

I can also see it happening in the wider community.  To be honest, for many years we have been regarded by a lot of people as a slightly odd bunch of enthusiasts, doing something which might or might not be worthwhile, but of little real relevance to the rest.  That is now changing to a much more general recognition that what we are about is of real importance and relevance.
That came over to me on Wednesday when a number of us, including our consultants working on the Melksham Link from MRG Studio and Barker Langham, manned a stand focusing on the Melksham Link at the 'Time for Wiltshire' all-day forum organised by Visit Wiltshire.  This is the body charged with developing the importance of tourism in Wiltshire, and promoting Wiltshire as a tourist destination.  The day itself was interesting, with a number of thoughtful (and humorous) presentations; it also gave us the opportunity to make connections with a number of other organisations with which we could collaborate on the Melksham Link.  But the thing that really struck me was that Visit Wiltshire itself, and other tourism-related organisations, see us as serious contributors to this whole topic.  Our plans for the Melksham Link really seemed to catch their imaginations, and put us among the serious participants in this field.
A meeting with a very different purpose and feel came the following day.  Paul Lenaerts and I gave a presentation on our plans for the Melksham Link to the Regional Forum of the Angling Trust.  As you might imagine, the members present expressed some serious concerns about our plans, and the possible impacts that the building of the canal might have on angling.  Although in some ways it was a little uncomfortable, I thought it was a helpful evening.  It gave us an insight into where there concerns lie, and we now have the opportunity to address them at least in part before we finalise our thoughts.  We also made contact with some of the leading people involved, so at least we know where to start a dialogue when we have to.
On Friday Kath Hatton, Eddie Thomas and Peter Hanson went to the Studley Grange site for a walk-through with the team from Land Water Services that will be doing the initial vegetation clearance.  Overall the impression was that it would not be anywhere near as far-reaching as we might have feared in terms of having to clear trees and hedges.  They are very keen to start work as soon as possible, and by the time you read this they should be under way.
And of course all the other work continues too - fund-raising, discussions with local authority officers, engineering designs etc.

Finally there is even time for socialising! - I understand that the boat group very much enjoyed their 'pub evening' at the Peterborough Arms, making full use of the skittle alley, and playing a host of pub games. 
This week also sees the MCC branch Charity Auction, which promises to be an enjoyable evening.  On Sunday, Kath and I will be attending the meeting of the Southern Canals Association, building links with other canal societies, and learning from the experience of others.

Chris Coyle




Monday, 16 March 2015

Great progress with the Studley Grange funding appeal and plans revealed for the Melksham Link development

Two projects took centre stage last week, the Melksham Link and Studley Grange. On Wednesday the consultants MRG gave an interesting presentation to some of the Melksham Link stakeholders at Wiltshire Council offices at Monkton Park. They showed more detail of the plans for the enabling development for the new canal and then Jock MacKenzie and his team gave us some details of the supporting business plan. Such a myriad of ideas here – waterside housing development, a large new wetlands reserve, a primary school, a marina, a pub, camping, lodges, rare breeds, Melksham through the ages, visitor centres. A pre-planning application for the whole scheme has been submitted to Wiltshire Council and is currently out for consultation. This should give us some guidance as to the scope of what is required for the planning application itself.
The appeal for £25,000 matched funding for Studley Grange is going well and we have passed the £4000 mark. Interestingly, a lot of donors are using the BT Donate online facility or text giving through JustTextGiving. Both are very easy and quick and gift aid can be applied with the donation if appropriate. Please help if you can – every pound donated will be matched by one of our funders. For details see: http://bit.ly/1w23LrJ.  Excavation of the old line of the canal here at Studley will open up such a peaceful stretch of waterway for public access 24/7 and is close to the centres of Royal Wootton Bassett and Swindon.
The quarterly meeting of the Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership took place at Monkton Park on Wednesday.  This was a chance to update our partners with the latest developments on all the current projects. We were also able to confirm to the partners that an entry for Canal & River Trust’s Living Waterway Awards has been made by the Trust.  One of our volunteers, Val Melville from Chippenham, who headed up the team that organised the Heritage Open days at Pewsham last summer drafted the entry which relates to those events and it is entered under the Education category.  Jock Mackenzie did a quick presentation to the partners on the Melksham plans. and answered questions on the proposal. The plans can be seen on the Partnership web site http://bit.ly/19ryvJb  Next time we will be on site at Royal Wootton Bassett to give the partners an idea of actual progress on the ground.
As an aside, I see that Timothy West and Prunella Scales have filmed another series of canal journeys and tonight’s (Sunday) programme is about the Oxford Canal.  They are such brilliant ambassadors for our canals and make really interesting films. Hope you can catch it later if you miss it. Some time ago Timothy West did a voice-over for a Wilts & Berks video and when I met him in Devizes about 18 months ago he asked how our project was going, so we are not forgotten!
Kath Hatton         

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Planting, and planning, for the (very) long term

It was great to see on the Friends & Volunteers Facebook site participation from local scout groups in planting new trees, donated by the Woodland Trust, at Pewsham.  It is an unfortunate fact  that some mature trees have to removed as part of the restoration, but  the really good news is that the Canal Trust team replace each one removed with at least ten saplings.  The team appreciate that  this is a short term loss but view the Wilts & Berks Canal as a project delivering habitat for  at least the next 200 years.

The big news was the launch last Thursday of the urgent funding appeal for the Studley Grange project  http://bit.ly/1w23LrJ . A major funder has  agreed to match £ for £ funding raised by the Trust.   The first few days have seen donations pass £1,000 so we hope we are well on the way to the £25k required to start urgent preliminary works on the project, including carrying out urgent clearance work.
The week ahead is very busy with a number of important meetings.

On Wednesday a presentation is being made by consultants MRG to some of the Melksham Link stakeholders, showing the proposed landscape and land use.  On the same theme, there are a series of meetings this week on the Business Plan underlying the Melksham Link.
On Thursday there is the quarterly meeting of the Wiltshire Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership where one  of the important topics will be an update on the  canal as part  of the Swindon Eastern Development proposals.

On Friday a number of the team are visiting Wichelstowe to look at specific issues around the canal and the proposed Wichelstowe Link project.


Ken Oliver


Monday, 2 March 2015

An Appeal for Studley Grange, and small steps elsewhere

Last week, Ken referred to progress inching forward on the Studley Grange project.  Well, that progress continues.  At the Trust Finance Committee meeting, it was formally decided to award the contract to Land and Water Services Ltd, who put in the lowest price tender, but also showed a real understanding of our needs.  While the whole project is time-critical, they have identified some preliminary tasks which must be carried out very soon indeed. These tasks include site clearance, (which is imperative now as there are not likely to be nesting birds -but as always due diligence will be take place before work commences), soil sampling, final agreement of a Method Statement with Biffa, and a drainage consent.  The overall contract has been awarded subject to funding being available, and Kath Hatton has been working very hard at securing that. The preliminary works are even more urgent; Kath has secured some funding from the Underwood Trust but it cannot be paid over until matched funding has been found. The total cost of these works is £50,000 so we are launching an appeal to raise £25,000. This project will open up 1.25Km of derelict canal alongside a landfill site that had no public access and turn it into a wildlife trail with multi user access 24/7 and restored length of the Wilts & Berks.  You will shortly find full details of how to contribute in On the Button and on our website.  This is very urgent; if we do not take this opportunity, it will not come again, so please help us if you can.

Elsewhere, a number of us from the Land Team, and including Bob Airey from East Vale branch, had a useful meeting with the land agent acting for the owner of a significant piece of land near Challow.  We all found the meeting very encouraging; however it will take some time to get the agreement of the owners to a deal, so we will have to be patient for the moment.

Meanwhile of course works continues on a number of other projects.  Lots of small steps on the Melksham Link, with landowners, local authorities, our consultants who are working on the Masterplan, yet more presentations to keep everyone informed.  Too many to mention, but all important.

The situation with the major development to the east of Swindon, known as Eastern Villages, continues to evolve.  We are working hard to develop the necessary contacts and relationships with other parties involved, including Swindon Borough Council planners, and potential developers.  We see this as very important if we are to preserve our main line in this area, but we will need to keep very close to it all, and make sure we have the best possible working relationship and dialogue with all parties in what is an evolving and complex picture.

Chris Coyle