Monday, 27 April 2015

Helping get the Wilts & Berks Canal on the Map

Early Saturday morning saw Ken and myself motoring up the M5 en route to Birmingham for a waterway restoration workshop run jointly by Canal & River Trust and Inland Waterways Association. ‘Getting it on the Map ‘ was held at The Bond, an historic collection of restored Victorian Buildings alongside the Grand Union Canal at Fazeley.  This is an annual event bringing together many of the Canal Trusts in England and Wales for a day of talks and advice on a variety of subjects that we all have to deal with.  In addition there was plenty of chance to network at coffee and lunch breaks. One major piece of work coming up soon from CRT is “State of the Nation” – every canal society in England and Wales will be asked to complete a questionnaire about their restoration – this will request a lot of information about all the work going on at the moment and will include details like numbers of locks, bridges, miles, current progress, plans for the future etc. When it is all collated into a database it will make very interesting reading. It will hopefully make central government realise that canal restorers are a force to be reckoned with!

Last week’s meeting at Studley Grange moved the project on a little further, checking site marking-up and sorting out preliminaries. Our appeal is going well and following the distribution of Dragonfly there have been more donations. We will update the website in a few days. There was also a meeting in Chippenham with a developer planning some house building, who might be able to help us with the new Chippenham Arm. 

On Friday night I attended an evening of jazz at Calne, one of MCC’s series of Spring events to raise money for local projects. The trad band playing was Four Plus One who were excellent. Having a bit of chat afterwards they were really pleased to hear that the Trust had purchased the Peterborough Arms and told me they used to play there many years ago. 

Good news on Val Melville’s application to the Living Waterway Awards in the Education section –this was based on the Heritage Open Days that took place at Pewsham Locks last year.  It has passed through the first round and has reached the visit stage. Two assessors will pay us a visit in June to look at the project and decide if it should be short-listed. 

If anyone would like to have a look at part of the Wilts & Berks canal under active restoration, then consider joining the Sponsored Walk on May 10th from Chippenham’s Buttercross. If you can raise at least £20 in sponsorship it is free or £5 each if no sponsors.  The walk will take in the interesting Pewsham Locks where Top Lock is going to be restored by the volunteers. For more details see the branch website
Finally you may  be thoroughly  fed up  with the General Election but perhaps you  might like to help get your  local candidates to sign up to the IWA Manifesto  and show their support for the value of waterway restoration
Kath Hatton

Monday, 20 April 2015

Eastern Challenges

For some time the project team have been concerned about the perceived lack of progress of restoration in Oxfordshire. This issue has been brought to a head by the Vale of White Horse District Council’s Local Plan.-while continuing to provide short term protection for the route of the canal VWHDC have asked for a detailed response to a number of questions about how and when the canal will be restored. In order to fully address these issues a number of us gathered last week to identify what needs to be done and when. You may not be surprised to find out ecological issues are part of the story and in particular there is a need to understand the current situation regarding the habitats as they now. We expect (subject to cost) that a ‘desktop’ study will be commissioned shortly to start this important work. We do have a shortage of volunteer manpower in Oxfordshire, especially to help project manage some of the sites and/or fundraise, and would welcome any new volunteers with a few hours to spare.  
The Melksham Link Masterplanning team presented further information about the business plan to a number of councillors and officers of Wiltshire Council last week. Discussions also took place with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to see if there were ways of cooperating on the proposed hydro scheme in Melksham. The engineering team looking at the Templars Firs extension project in Royal Wootton Bassett met with Wessex Water on Friday to understand the constraints of the underground pipe work at the site.
I understand that the Royal Wootton Bassett branch meeting was well attended on Monday for an interesting talk on ‘Canal Shortcuts’ by Stuart Fisher
This week sees a further site meeting with the designated contractors at Studley Grange and some weekend work for the team on Saturday at the National Waterways Annual Workshop in Birmingham. Organised by Canal & River Trust and the Inland Waterways Association this year’s event is themed around ‘Getting it on the Map’. Appropriate for our current challenges in Oxfordshire!
Ken Oliver

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

... And then two come along at once

To paraphrase the old joke - as we have reported before, we have been working hard on obtaining planning permissions for a number of sites, and then we heard of two successful grants in one day!  The local team in Swindon, with support from the central team, has been working very hard to obtain the planning permission for the new landing stage at the Waitrose store at Wichelstowe.  After a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing on the final design details, we have the permission.  This will enable us to crack on with building the landing stage, which will be available for a good part of the summer trips.  We are hoping that this will raise the profile of our very successful boat team even higher.
As if that was not enough, on the same day we heard that we have received permission for all of our plans to rebuild the canal, locks, lengthsman’s cottage, workshop, lime kiln etc at Pewsham.
Well done all of those involved in the huge amount of work that has gone into preparing the applications, and seeing them through.
Of course, both successful applications come with conditions, but that is now something we have to expect, and it is a question of working our way through them.

A number of the team had a walk along the canal at Studley Grange where we now have the lease; it was very heartening to see the work which has already started there, and we understand that the remaining preliminary works will start next week.  We are hoping that we will have some good news about whether we need to move an electricity pylon out of the way; the SSE engineer and our contractors Land and Water Services are trying to find a way so that we do not, which would save us time and expense.  On a lovely spring day, it was easy to imagine what a beautiful stretch of canal we are going to make out of a landfill site.
Our appeal for matched funding to pay for the essential preliminary works remains open, and we would be grateful for any contribution you can make.

In the background we are working on what the organisation and structure of the canal trust should look like to meet the new challenges, and we hope to bring you news of that and of other developments concerning our leadership shortly.
Finally  a correction  to some of the dates shown in the last blog -The Inaugural Meeting of the then Wilts & Berks Canal Amenity Group was held in the Long Room of Swindon Arts Centre on 8th October 1977, and the first edition of Dragon Fly was issued in November 1977 under the Editorship of Pete Boyce then of St. Margaret’s Road in Swindon –thanks to Neil Rumbold for setting the record straight

Chris Coyle

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Time to catch our breath.....

Last week was a relatively quiet week – a time to catch up with a few emails and reflect a little.  When looking for grants recently I have been asked several times how many years has the restoration been going and how much canal has been restored. Officially running since 1988, an answer of 10-20% doesn’t seem a lot for 27 years. I can understand how that would sound to someone who doesn’t know the project. The last few years we have concentrated on getting various planning consents and doing a lot of preparation for projects. Not a lot of extra metres in water added to the total.  So what can we do?

This year we hope to restore the length at Studley Grange – that will be a high profile project that will add about 1250 metres. Next year we hope – start of the Melksham Link – that will be even higher profile, largely because of the unusual way we intend to fund it through enabling development. Jock MacKenzie will then move his attention to Master planning other sections. The problem is that we are all so impatient to reach the next stage but as Jock would say, step by step we will move forward and the momentum will increase. With that momentum I hope that our membership will also increase (as of today standing at 2569).  That would make the project more plausible for funders and for local authorities too. Keith Price has taken on the job of trying to come up with novel ideas to attract new faces, I am sure he would welcome your ideas. 

The next few weeks promise to be anything but quiet – this week we have meetings at Studley Grange, Finance and Admin Committee and the Land Team.  We are still awaiting news of our major bid for Landfill Community grant and today is the deadline for commenting on the Chippenham Housing allocations plan.  Tonight the team is doing a presentation to Semington Parish Council in order to keep them up to date on plans for the Melksham Link.
Kath Hatton