Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Hello again
If you have managed to find this blog again apologies that there has been a gap in publishing as I had decided  the old Wilts & Berks Weekly had run its course and that it was time to start again its lust its taken a while!!!.
So on a somewhat less ardious schedule (not weekly!) I intend to share my views here about the world of canals and restoration  which I hope you will find interesting.

Ken Oliver

Sunday, 20 August 2017


No I am not going to write about leaving something in your will to the Wilts & Berks (but that would of course be much appreciated) however a recent visit to London put these thoughts in my mind.
Firstly its holiday time so I am afraid this weekly column is going to be on a more irregular basis until the middle of September.
The London trip was last weekend to watch an evening of athletics at the London (Olympic) Stadium -you may know that we took our narrowboat to the Queen Elizabeth Park last year when the waterways (what we used to call the Bow Back Rivers) were re-opened. It was fantastic to see how much the park- now a public open space - had matured since my first visits to some of the Olympic Games events in 2012. Last week it was back to the Stadium on foot .
Queen Elizabeth Park -view to the Swimming Pool
The trees and planting are fantastic - the natural wild flowers in the beds and alongside the waterways are a credit to the designer.
For canal fans like myself there was also an opportunity to see the recently restored Carpenters Road Lock with its unique sector gates 
You will know that there was much controversy about the cost of the Games however in my opinion the money was well spent on turning this derelict part of Hackney/Stratford into a wonderful place for the community to enjoy all the time plus the athletes village now social housing- plus a magnificent dual purpose football and world class athletics stadium plus swimming pool plus ... I could go on but sufficient to sayit was public investment in infrastructure that certainly is a huge benefit for all.
Just think what a fraction of the Olympic investment could do to put the Wilts & Berks back together again - as the social media says #forallofus. Perhaps Lord Coe you could work some of your magic for us ???

Ken Oliver

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Wilts & Berks at the centre of Swindon life

I have written much about the ambitions to bring the Wilts & Berks back to the centre to Swindon but perhaps time just to pause and have a good look at where the canal is currently being built. When I first became involved in the Wilts & Berks there was a huge local protest campaign to stop development on Swindon's Front Garden- I am not sure who coined this phrase for what Swindon Borough Council called the Southern Development Area.and at the time work was just starting on the Northern Development Area (Taw Hill Abbey Meads, St Andrews Ridge..) so in an ever expanding town the SDA was scheduled to be next. The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust has always stayed neutral on whether such developments should go ahead but if they do the aim has been, and still is, to make the best use of any funding to construct the canal. The SDA was planned on ground known to need extensive drainage and protection from flood events so with the Wilts & Berks route running through the area the canal was an obvious choice to be a central part of the drainage works. I think we should all be grateful that the decision makers at that time embraced the canal concept, as the drainage could have been done in other ways. So started the story of what became Wichelstowe and the construction of considerable amount of infrastructure to facilitate a navigable waterway. 
Wind the clock on to 2017  and the first part of the new canal has been built at East Wichel, and the next phase of upgrading the existing canal at Middle Wichel is about to start. This will mean closure of a section of the canal for a number of months while extensive engineering works are carried out prior to construction of a new public house, school and housing.
As a consequence from some time in September until at least next spring the Trust's trip boat Dragonfy will be running from the old departure point at Kingshill instead of Waitrose.
Beyond this immediate work future phases of Wichelstowe will link the two section of canal and extend it to the point where it will cross the M4. 
I think what is important to understand is that Wichelstowe will have the canal as a central feature and this alone must be a convincing case for extension into the town centre and beyond to Cricklade .

Ken Oliver 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

A green and pleasant waterway

 If you regularly follow this blog you will know that we currently have our boat in Birmingham  and we are now just starting a few exploratory cruises from our moorings close to Brindley Place. 
We certainly have plenty of choice of where to go, so this week mindful of the weather forecast we started off with a half day cruise. If you are involved in a restoration project like me you could easily think Birmingham is spoilt - that famous statistic that it has more canals than Venice is supported by the fact that the original Birmingham Mainline was a 'contour canal' winding its way taking the easiest 'flat' route. To speed up the journey time a new canal was built to iron out the curves on a straight line to Dudley and beyond  but leaving the old canal too. So we took advantage of this to make a circular route out on the 'new' in its deep cutting  and built so straight you could set the boat on cruise control and return on the old -up 3 locks and down again. As a new visitor what I think surprised me most was how green canal corridor is with so much open space and wildlife within in  a mile or so of the city centre.

and no shortage of herons with their shy please don't take a picture of me attitude 
Not to say that all of the journey was in a country park - on the old line there is the small matter of the M5 - I wonder how many of the millions who travel above  realise what is under their feet.
Meanwhile on the home front I have just spent the week working on expanding the audio trail for the Wilts & Berks so look out (or should that be listen out) for news soon.

Ken Oliver

Sunday, 23 July 2017

People Power- where there's a will....

Perhaps the biggest challenge to bringing the Wilts & Berks back to life is a natural scepticism that it can be done at all. We acknowledge ourselves that its the longest restoration in the UK so why should a major infrastructure scheme promoted by a volunteer led Charity be successful.?
I often outline my 'conversion to a beliver' as being when I saw first hand another mission impossible  -the Rochdale Canal - go from ambition to reality in less than five years. The step change came about by an unexpected windfall of money from the Millennium Commission and suddenly the impossible was done.
Does this make me think that we will need such a fortuitous event to complete the Wilts & Berks -well maybe but as I will not be around to wait for another turn of a century I am keen to at least explore other possibilities. 
I was particularly pleased to welcome this week Sam Anderson-Brown and Peter Walker from Canal & River Trust  who are in charge of restoration - both CRT projects and linking with projects like the Wilts & Berks.

Its very difficult to showcase all the work that's going on but our tour took us from Swindon to Pewsham near Chippenham via a number of key locations.We look forward to continuing cooperation and liaison with CRT and without doubt their support for a Southern Canals Network (Cotswold + W&B) with Swindon as its hub will be crucial,
On  Wednesday perhaps I had an illustration of how the Wilts & Berks pace of restoration could be accelerated. You could not doubt the enthusiasm in the air at the Switch on to Swindon Ambassadors event held last Wednesday .
Its is quite clear that in the room and beyond there was a will to showcase Swindon as a great place to live and work. It set me thinking that in a world where currently the 'will of the people' is making the unthinkable happen, our current challenge is to encourage and nurture that 'will' - I have no doubt that it is there to restore the canal- to persuade (force may be a better word) those with the power to make change, to properly consider that the Wilts & Berks canal made operational will do all the things and more that we promise for local communities the environment and economy.

Ken Oliver

Monday, 17 July 2017

A journey of 70 miles

The journey of a thousand miles that might have started with a single step is not quite comparable with rebuilding the 70 miles of the Wilts & Berks Canal but sometimes it feels that way!
The equivalent of that first single step was taken many years ago, perhaps by Jack Dalby and his interest in the lost canal,  and certainly the subsequent formation of a group of like- minded people who began the restoration of this waterway forming the missing link between the Thames & Kennet and Avon Canal.

When I first joined the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust one of the projects being talked about was the canal at Studley Grange - if you  do not know this location its just on the Wiltshire side of Swindon (Hay Lane) on the way to Royal Wootton Bassett. That was some 15 years ago so you might wonder why it takes so long to get from an initial agreement to do the restoration to the happy conclusion last week of the final buckets full of spoil being removed.

The answer is perhaps to be found in the scale of what has just been achieved- to dig out 1.2 km of totally infilled canal on land not owned by WBCT, situated next to a landfill site  The location had a major advantage in that Biffa Waste who operate the site agreed to take the canal infill directly as part of their landscaping operations. The big potential snag was the proximity of the canal route to the landfill site. Much of the time and a great proportion of the initial cost was in demonstrating the technical feasibility of the scheme. Passing this hurdle was a complex process and only when agreed was it possible to negotiate a lease for the canal corridor. Fundraising and construction were no less complex so it was with great satisfaction that I was able on Monday to see this excavation finally completed. Not quite the last piece in the jigsaw as some more work to do on fencing and a footpath link at the eastern end of the site, but we all hope now for a full opening next spring.
Meanwhile we need to join this section to the already restored canal at Morningside Farm with a new bridge at Bincknoll Lane .......

Ken Oliver

Monday, 10 July 2017

You can be Heroes for more than just one day

This weeks blog title paraphrases a famous David Bowie song which thankfully I am not attempting to sing !
You will probably have seen that last Thursday was a press day on the Wilts & Berks part of the Heritage Heroes project. Funded by the Peoples Postcode Lottery Dreamfund , Canal & River Trust and Help for Heroes have developed a programme where recovering Armed Forces personnel can take part in projects as part of reskilling and rehabilitation.-working with the volunteers at four restoration projects.

If you have been involved in anything to do with the media especially television you will know  that there is more waiting around than action (not that I was anything other than an observer anyway!). So the sunny morning progressed with an opportunity at least to chat to some of the team and I was particularly heartened (a strange word in the circumstances) by the stories I heard about how being a part of the team at Pewsham had literally started to transform the lives of those taking part. So a win for everyone with a new play area taking shape and some serious bricklaying on the lock .

The project continues for another couple of weeks but I am sure this is just the start of a much longer association between WBCT and the Help for Heroes team.
I conclude with my public thanks to the local MCC branch team for making this happen- a great and worthwhile job.
Ken Oliver


Monday, 3 July 2017

By the waterside

If you read last weeks blog you will know that a number of us are trying to persuade the wider world, and Government in particular, why they should engage with the volunteer movement to fully restore the country's lost canals. I would be very interested in your opinion and especially what you think makes our inland waterways special.
Wherever you are water is always a great attraction. We have just spent a long weekend on the Isle of Wight staying with friends on a houseboat - so relaxing and a great way to unwind. 
Bembridge I.o.W.

I am also certain about one thing that will resonate with politicians and that is the amount of volunteering activity canal restoration produces. Each month I report the hours logged by the Wilts & Berks team and there is on average at least 2000 hours reported which if turned into monetary value would contribute £30K-£40k - probably well over £0.5m each year.

Some of my time last week was spent going through the pages on the Canal Partnership web site and updating where necessary. Again I would be interested to hear about anything that I have missed, or that needs correcting.  www.canalpartnership.co.uk
If you live in the Grove/Wantage area you will know  just how much housing development is taking place at the moment. We intend to play some 'catch-up' shortly with the canal and I am submitting this week some information to the local Planning Authority so that the WB Canal Trust can get some 'pre-application' advice about the section of canal that will be built in the Stockham Farm area.

Ken Oliver

Monday, 26 June 2017

The bigger picture

On Thursday this week I have been invited with others to attend an Inland Waterways Association 'task group' to see if we can find a way to persuade decision makers at a national level to look at why canal restoration might be important enough to invest resources and finance.
My involvement with waterway restoration (and the Wilts & Berks in particular) came about in what now seem like 'heady days' of major works on several waterways at the turn of this century . Fuelled by the enthusiasm and persuasiveness  of the then Chief Executive of British Waterways ( and now Vice President of WBCT) Dr David Fletcher, the Government  and more specifically the Secretary of State backed a number of major schemes via the Millennium Commission.
Up to that time I was somewhat of a non believer about the Wilts & Berks  but it was certainly the delivery of an ' impossible canal' - the Rochdale - that convinced me that the undoubted challenges of the W&B were just that, not insurmountable problems.
So what will we talk about to make the prospect of a further extended canal network a reality?
Well I can't pre-empt where the meeting might lead but I shall be certainly asking that we consider looking at what we might like to achieve over 10-20 years.This vision would certainly include from my perspective completing a southern canals network (Cotswold, The Wilts & Berks and North Wilts Canals) with Swindon at its centre.
Perhaps a summer's Saturday in Swindon might be like the one I have just seen in Birmingham- alive with interest and activity both on and out of the water.


Finally a word of congratulation to Sam Anderson-Brown who has just been appointed as Canal & River Trust's Restoration Manager - we look forwarding to welcoming him soon to see the Wilts & Berks - and of course sincere thanks to Jason Leach who has been carrying out this role for a number of years and has been a great supporter for the project.

Ken Oliver

Monday, 19 June 2017

Partnership & a trip to Wales

The Wiltshire Swindon & Oxfordshire Canal Partnership met this week to discuss strategy and to get updates on projects and progress. The Partnership has been discussing for the last 6 months how it could be more effective in helping the WB Canal Trust to deliver restoration. Based on advice from other organisations the Partnership intends to progress by continuing its quarterly  meetings to discuss strategy and to consider setting up teams by inviting relevant organisations to form 'mini partnerships' to work on specific projects.

Getting out to see other restorations is always interesting and last week I was invited back to the Mon& Brec Canal Ty Coch lock flight to be part of the visiting team looking at the modular steel lock gates. In conjunction with the K&A Trust and Swansea University the gates have been developed to considerably reduce cost of installation and maintenance 

The Wilts & Berks team has decided in principle to use this type of gate construction and we are working on some initial designs for gates at Chadington Lock.
If you are ever in the area its well worth a walk along the towpath to see the work being carried out ( and its a lovely canal side walk!)

Ken Oliver

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Boating on the Wilts & Berks

I am not sure if it was my mother or granny who told me about that road paved with good intetions  but  I certainly  had intended to  write this blog at least a week ago!
The reason/excuse has been the oportunity for some 'serious boating' taking our narrowboat from Wiltshire to Birmingham. A rather ambious journey given the time available but  nevertheless completed on schedule last Saturday . One of the 'stops' en route was the Wilts & Berks Canal (or Jubilee Junction to be precise).

 Lets  hope this will be the way home to Wiltshire in the not too distant future!

Just before we set off on this 'voyage'  I was pleased to be invited to the official reopening of the Claverton pumping station on the Kennet & Avon Canal. Some magnificent restorration work carried out by the volunteers to bring this eighteenth century engineering back to life - the ultimate 'green power' source using the River Avon's flow to turn a waterwheel which then pumps river water into the canal.
So having now spent some considerable time on the K&A River Thames,Oxford Canal, Grand Union and Birmingham Canal Navigations I am even more convinced that the Wilts & Berks will be a major asset for the communities in Oxfordshire Swindon and Wiltshire- so what are we waiting for...??? This is what Swindon should look like

And just as a footnote this boat is moored up in central Birmingham just waiting to get back to home waters.....

Ken Oliver

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Water water everywhere

If I am feeling slightly frivolous, when I am asked where the water is coming from for the restored Wilts & Berks Canal, I say " out of the sky"!. 
The subject of water supply for the canal is complicated and the simple answer is to reduce potential canal leakage, reuse as much as possible, and provide adequate storage for the balance required- if only!!.
This has all been brought into focus by noting the long and continuing public discussion of how Thames Water intend to keep providing an adequate supply for an ever growing demand in their area.
For years the plan was ( and maybe still is) to build a reservoir near Abingdon. The consequence for the Wilts & Berks Canal if this scheme were to go ahead in its original form  would be a significant restoration of the canal from the reservoir site to the River Thames . For a number of years an alternative scheme of water transfer from the River Severn has seemed to be preferred . The Cotswold Canal team have been lobbying for Thames Water to consider using the restored Thames & Severn Canal as the conduit for the water- Thames Water are still assessing options but still seem to prefer using a pipeline;
This is an illustration of options being considered in 2015:

Thames Water are currently  holding a series of meeting on their plans and a number of the  team attended one of these in Cirencester last Thursday . The next local presentation is in Abingdon on June 15th. Full details of how to register to attend are on the Thames Water web site

The rain in the last few days will have been welcomed by gardeners and canal water resource managers equally- my wish is that precipitation is limited to the hours of darkness especially when I am boating!

Politics is everywhere at  the moment and with under four weeks to the General Election. WBCT has just issued a statement about the election urging all voters to seek the views of candidates about waterways restoration https://www.wbct.org.uk/the-trust/our-news/275-general-election-2017  

Finally just a reminder that if you would like to be a guest editor of the blog  let me know

Ken Oliver 

Monday, 8 May 2017

False News !

I have mentioned before in this blog that its very frustrating to read in social media some things about canal life that just are not true!. The latest example came from someone who should have known better suggesting that it would be a waste of money to restore the canal in Swindon as boating was only for rich people.
The problem is that these ideas, once rooted, take more than a systemic campaign to remove them! For those of us who do understand that waterway use is mainly about those on the towpath (who sometimes simply come to enjoy the view) there is still much more work to be done to change the perception that canals are all about boats. 
This is what Canal & River Trust show in their Annual Report (15/16)

Who uses the waterways

So the challenge is to better engage with those not actively involved in canal restoration and this was one of the topics extensively discussed at last Thursday's meeting of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust Executive. If you have some ideas of how we widen the appeal of the Wilts & Berks project please get in touch.
On a personal note our summer narrowboat cruise is now planned and weekends are already afloat heading east on the Kenner & Avon Canal  and we hope to be enjoying canal life in Birmingham in a few weeks time

Ken Oliver

Monday, 1 May 2017

Back from holidays

So having spent some time in the Mediterranean sun I guess I can only claim maƱana  as an excuse for taking a couple of weeks off from the blog.
Getting back to work is always a challenge but as ever plenty to  do on the canal front now I am back in action.
I was delighted that Wiltshire Widllife Trust were able to help with getting much of the planting done at Studley Grange - the wildlife trail will certainly get a good start when all the all the plants start to mature. Still some work to do as the dry spring has meant that the final planting has to wait for rain!
The canals in London have been alive with boats at the annual IWA Cavalcade at Little Venice - nice to see the Wilts & Berks logo among the moored boats

We have just started our own canal summer cruise and have heading east on the K&A hoping to get to Birmingham this year.
But my mind has wandered again from work!. The Melksham Link team is still working hard on trying to get the planning application progressed- a significant meeting held last week with Environment Agency and we hope we know now what further information is required.
The consultation on the latest stage of the Vale of White Horse DC Local plan closes on May 4th - you might want to support the proposed policy to protect the Wilts & Berks Canal Route  http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/services-and-advice/planning-and-building/planning-policy/local-plan-2031-part-2 
And finally well done to the Dragonfly boat trip team now back in action in Swindon.

Ken Oliver

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Fit for purpose

Firstly apologies that this weeks blog is published a little next later than usual but  I was attending the annual CRT/IWA Restoration Workshop in Wolverhampton on Saturday.
Fit for purpose was the theme of the workshop and as ever a wide range of topics covered and of course a great opportunity to meet others working on canal restorations plus a number of senior CRT team.
Richard Parry Chief Executive Canal & River Trust
The whole point of the event is to share best practice so the recent reorganisation of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust was one of the morning sessions.
Jonathan Till Chief Executive WBCT
The presentations made during the day will be available shortly- well worth a read
The preceding part of my week had fewer meetings than usual (hooray!) however with an important new connection for the Wilts Berks to be invited to be part of the Upper Thames Partnership where we will have an opportunity to interact with a number of other organisations who deal with issues in the catchment.
All other work has been of completing the response to latest Swindon Borough Council's New Eastern Villages consultation and to work with the Melksham Link project team to try to advance the planning application.
There may be a pause in the blog for next week as I am intending to take in a few days of Mediterranean sunshine but will be back in time for Easter and a chance to get our boat of the moorings for the first time this year.

Ken Oliver

Friday, 24 March 2017


Firstly thanks to Steve Bacon for last week's blog - I hope you liked  another view of the Wilts & Berks - let me know if want to be a guest editor for the week.
Working in partnership was the theme for my week-
On Monday I joined some of the team to meet up with colleagues from the Cotswold Canals Trust . We met at their not so new headquarters building at Brimscombe Port - long since the deserted by industry it is eventually scheduled for demolition as part of the massive redevelopment plans for the area to rebuilt the port so its final meanwhile use is by CCT. We looked at the obvious parts where we might work more closely - Cricklade to Inglesham which will be the route to the River Thames from the North Wilts canal and heard about the CCT efforts to persuade Thames Water to use the Cotswold Canals for water transfer from the River Severn. We will obviously continue the dialogue and look at area of common interest..
I am a member of the Kennet & Avon & Bridgewater & Taunton Canals Partnership so was 'on duty' on Wednesday evening in Bath where the Trustees of Canal & River Trust had been spending the day seeing the newly restored Claverton Pumping Station and had invited local guests to meet them to talk about their work .
Allan Leighton Chairman of CRT welcomes guests
Finally  Thursday  was the quarterly  meeting of the Wiltshire Swindon & Oxfordshire Canal Partnership where among  other items we discussed how our Partnership  could be more effective . Some really interesting ideas came out of the meeting and we hope to take them forward to help deliver the canal.

Ken Oliver

Friday, 17 March 2017

A View from the Back Window

This week I am taking a rest and its over to Guest Editor Steve Bacon

Since the beginning of this year, Ken has provided an information-packed blog eagerly awaited each weekend. This week, I hope to give another perspective from a Branch member. I retired in October 2015 and a couple of months later we moved to Royal Wootton Bassett having chosen just the spot to keep us occupied.
In February 2016 I started with the weekly working parties offering unskilled labour, and so I've seen our stretch of the canal through every season. It's very satisfying to see a job completed in a day. Early spring last year started with clearing trees and brush from the Dunnington Aqueduct with neat bonfires to consume the piles accumulated during the work-party. We moved on to the restored section at Templars Firs to tidy the offside – again with a bonfire or two to mark our activity – and later in the summer onto the canal to remove the weed growth. The yellow water-lilies are very attractive but they choke the canal; however, the two clumps of large white water-lilies were strictly protected and have been the subject of much amateur photography. I often meet camera-wielding walkers while I'm out with the dogs.

Our branch has a faithful band of volunteers coming from far and wide to keep the grass mown and the hedgerows held in check, and a well-respected WPO in John Bower to guide us in the tasks in hand. He has three deputies, so we can split up into sub-groups as necessary. The team has a wide range of practical skills to counter-balance my lack of them; several members can drive diggers and dumpers, but no-one can make it look quite so simple as Richard Hawkins who can fashion a track or a trench in a trice. The excavator is just like an extra arm, levelling the clay like spreading butter.
Other volunteers have left their mark on the Peterborough Arms: Frank Keohane and John Phillips have worked on plastering based on the traditional lime mix needed for a listed building, and although their achievements have already been celebrated in a report given to those who've loaned money for the PA, this year their handiwork will be revealed to a much wider audience.
Having moved from the clay soils of central Berkshire, I know how just how much difference there is between the water-logged soft mess in winter and the cracked dry surface in summer. The clay soil at Studley Grange is an order of magnitude stickier and softer in winter, but with a decent towpath it will become accessible this year. In mid-February, an excavator was hired for two days to create a spill-weir at the western end of Studley Grange by Bincknoll Lane; two trenches were dug, two ribbed plastic pipes were sunk in the clay and covered over, and the team's hi-viz jackets ended up a very low-vis grey.

Having moved to a house in Templars Firs (the road), I was asked to become project manager of the Templar's Firs Extension project (the canal). Actually, I've been busy working in the canal itself over the last few months diverting a path – but I hasten to add that this stretch is in my back garden, and not for restoration. Over Christmas and New Year, I was also busy managing the diversion of the all-weather access track, swapping hats between project management and unskilled labour under John's command. Many others joined the extra work-parties to erect the fencing and help lay 200 tons of scalpings.
Behind our back garden is the old Council Depot, which was moribund when I first saw it in 2015, but when we moved in, we found that it was a hive of activity 24/7 from Monday to Sunday, occupied by a consortium named ABC Electrification whose staff have raised funds for us and kindly allowed the WRG excavator to be parked overnight for over a fortnight. Last week, they finally vacated the buildings and the once-busy yard is now empty and waiting for a buyer.
Will the Templar's Firs Extension have to move up a gear soon? Will we need two work-parties in future – one midweek for us 'Last of the Summer Winers' and another at the weekend for those still working?
Steve Bacon,
Trustee representing the Membership.

If you would like to be one of our occasional guest editors let me know
Ken Oliver

Friday, 10 March 2017

Slowly coming back to life

Another opportunity this week to visit some more of the canal. This time it was the most recent restoration at Studley Grange Royal Wootton Bassett. I don't think any of the WBCT management team would argue with me when I say that this project has been difficult and is not yet complete. I know everyone is waiting for the official opening but like most things Wilts & Berks a bit more patience is required!  However things are happening and the RWB team are working their way through a long list of installing information boards benchs and leaning posts.

This project is part of the strategy to link the canal from Royal Wootton Bassett to Swindon and my reason to visit this week was to discuss how we can temporarily link the towpath to Hay Lane. This will require the permission of Biffa Waste Ltd to access land to the north of the canal. It was a lovely spring day for the walk and as you can see the canal looks very good and will look even better when Wiltshire Wildlife Trust complete some further planting later this month.

Ken Oliver

Friday, 3 March 2017


It nice to get out of the office and have a look a section of the Wilts & Berks I have not  seen before , so with some of the WBCT team , and with permission of Wiltshire Council's property team, on Tuesday I had a look at Lower Forest Farm just outside Melksham. This is part of the land that Wiltshire Council has agreed to  give to WBCT and most importantly contains the new route out of the river Avon to re-join  the historic route of the canal . It is a very picturesque  spot and the new locks required to come out of the river and climb up to the canal  will be very impressive. The old canal is a mixture of in filled sections and derelict waterway just waiting to be restored.
Derelict Canal  Lower Forest Farm
Site of junction with River Avon

Seeing this section of the canal 100 years after abandonment is very relevant  to  a report by consultants Peter Brett Associates shortly to be published. The study  has looked at the whole canal route as it is today  and relates it to local habitats  and will be an important tool in future planning applications to assess what mitigation may be required as part of the canal restoration.
The start of the week was a meeting with the WBCT engineering  team to finally conclude how the canal will connect from Croft Road Swindon to Coate Water Country Park.

Thankfully  unlike the Whitworths when they had to  physically survey the canal we were able to rely on 21st Century technology and use 'Lidar'  mapping to establish the levels along the route . The meeting concluded  that  we will need 5 locks to get from the old summit pound (99.1m) to  a new summit at 114m . The aim will be to build all the remaining locks at a standard 3m depth.
This week concluded with a visit to the Peterborough Arms ( looks better each time I go) for a meeting of the WBCT Executive.

Ken Oliver

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Big Picture

The last time I visited the Kings Cross St Pancras area of London was last year by boat so it was a slightly different perspective I viewed the egents Canal  from the meeting room close to Batllebridge basin, where on Friday IWA had assembled 20+ knowledgeable delegates from canal restoration groups. The aim of the day was to work out how IWA could advance waterway restoration on the national stage to further expand the work on their Restoration Hub. It was agreed by all  that a small team needs to be set up and resourced to define a 'vision' for what the waterways might look like in 10-15 years and then to promote this with all its benefits to national and local government and the leaders of relevant national organisations. In my opinion this is a big leap forward and I hope that the outcome will produce effective results for all waterway restoration schemes. The physical outcomes of waterside regeneration were all around us so a very appropriate venue for this work.
The Gas Works St Pancras (Jul 16)

The Cotswold Canal Partnership met this week at a very windy Slimbridge. Their main focus at present is to address the issues raised in the last attempt at securing HLF funding for their Phase 1b (connecting the existing restored section at Stroud to Saul Junction). The exciting news is that Stroud District Council has committed £3m to the scheme.
The Wilts & Berks is also hoping to attract some HLF funding for Pewsham Locks and I met with the bid team this week to assess what needs to happen next before the HLF project officer visits the site at the end of March.
Elsewhere on the project I have just started to review the latest Swindon consultations on the New Eastern Villages and I will be working with the WBCT Exec to see how members can best try to influence the proposals.

Ken Oliver

Saturday, 18 February 2017

This weeks Carry On

Celebrity Carry on Barging (Channel 5 Friday 8pm) to me had a title that raised at least an eyebrow  with an expectation of high jinx on the canal. Hats off to the producers who have come up with a formula  that captures the flavour of canal life seen through the eyes of Simon Callow Lorraine Chase Nigel Havers & Debbie McGee. I have to say that they would have been a bit more exhausted tackling the Caen Hill flight of locks without the help of the CRT volunteer lock keepers!. Anyway in my opinion well worth watching  especially episode 2 (aired Fri 17th) which features a short section about the Wilts & Berks restoration filmed at Pewsham Locks. http://www.channel5.com/show/celebrity-carry-on-barging

Acquiring the route of the Wilts &Berks is clearly the first step in fully restoring the canal and all day last Monday the WBCT Land Team and Branch Chairs met. The whole route of the mainline and North Wilts Canals were reviewed and a number key priorities identified to deliver strategic sections of the restoration.
In 1998 one of the big steps forward for the Wilts & Berks was a comprehensive feasibility study carried out  by consultants Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick.This has been the engineering 'bible' for the project since then, although quite a number of areas have been revised  by subsequent reports.  Currently I am working with the WBCT engineering team to review some of the basic specifications for the canal and we intend to publish a revised document shortly having checked some fundamental issues. This is a crucial piece of work as increasingly WBCT is having to advise third parties on how to build the canal. To ensure that the specifications will be generally in harmony with Canal & River Trust waterways, CRT have agreed to be part of the review procedure for this document.

Ken Oliver

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Hearts and minds

I think we still have to overcome one of the biggest challenges yet to move forward ,by which I don't mean the funding but the will of the communities along the Wilts & Berks to want to have the canal back as a central part of local life. This was illustrated vividly to me this week when I became involved in commenting on a Facebook page (Save Swindon Heritage- its a closed group so you have to ask to join) . The page was set up to challenge some of the decisions being made around the Heath Hydro- an amazingly preserved Victorian facility. The post asked what everyone thought about bringing the canal back to Swindon- there was plenty of support but not for the first time a number of posts that said they did not want the 'stinking cesspit' back - I presume a reference to the state of the derelict canal that survived into the 1970's. Another post talked about it being a death trap  and in my mind I really struggle as someone involved in the waterways  for half of my life to understand how these images of the canal persist particularly when there is so much upbeat  publicity with 'Tim & Pru' and others out and about on the canals. So still some work to do to win some hearts and minds.
The week included a meeting of the Melksham Link project team who plough on with the task of assembling and responding to comments on the planning application- we all think we are now very close!. 
Plans for the spring are in hand to complete the planting at Studley Grange and I am pleased to report that Wiltshire Wildlife Trust  are engaged to carry out the programme.
Behind the scenes there is much going on and I hope you appreciate that it is not always possible to share this, as  'going public' too early could jeopardise sensitive negotiations. I think I can say that if all goes well there may be something to say soon about Swindon Town Centre. 

Ken Oliver

Monday, 6 February 2017

Home thoughts from abroad

I resisted the urge on Saturday to write this week's blog as we were enjoying a few days away in the Mediterranean sunshine, so now being firmly back in the UK winter on Monday morning, time to catch up on the week's (or in my case half week) events.
Continuing the theme from the previous week Swindon once again featured with two important meetings about the New Eastern Villages  & Wichelstowe .
The first was with Cllr Toby Elliott Cabinet Member Strategic Planning & Sustainability and senior officers from the NEV team + WBCT Chairman and other Exec members.  We all came away feeling that the issues raised  were being taken seriously and that we had made some progress. I guess what actually happens next will be the measure of words versus actions!.
The same day some of the WBCT team attended the NEV Developers Forum.This was an attempt by SBC to bring together developers, service providers and local residents and interest groups. It was clear that there is still a long way to go before harmony breaks out in this arena!

My role also includes working with the Cotswold Canals team and currently I am hoping that I can help them get planning consent for a restoration scheme north of Cricklade at Roundhouse Farm as part of the restoration of some gravel workings. I suspect this may not be  able to be done quickly!!
My final thought for the week is to congratulate the WBCT team  for starting to get the Peterborough Arms at Dauntsey Lock back into use. Much hard work from the volunteer team has gone in to getting the building ready and some interesting community events are starting to be held there and we all look forward to the eventual use as a canal side pub and the prestigious HQ for WBCT.

Ken Oliver

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Milestones Swindon and Jubilee Junction

You may have spotted at the corner of Canal Walk & Bridge Street in Swindon one of the Wilts &  Berks milestones

I saw this picture recently advertising a talk about listed buildings and I started a small Twitter debate by saying this was a replica. Thankfully Doug Small (WBCT Archivist) to the rescue as he tells me this is an original but moved from its former  location during 1970's building works (and clearly refurbished). I was surprised to discover that it is a Grade II listed structure and as such perhaps one of the most unusual in Swindon. Doug also sent me an article written by Reg Wilkinson which gives details about the W&B milestones and I hope to get this published shorty on the www.canalpartnership.org.uk web site.

Meanwhile my week seems to have had a distinct Swindon focus with various meetings discussing canal design in Wichelstowe and the New Eastern Villages.
Middle Wichel District Centre is the next part of Wichelstowe to be built (the area opposite Waitrose) and the canal is certainly the centrepiece of this next phase so we are confirming all the details with the designers  before a planning application is submitted shortly.
I wish there was more certainty about the canal being built as part of the New Eastern Villages- we continue to remind developers of the opportunity for enhancing their schemes and WBCT is still asking both the Environment Agency and Swindon Borough Council to consider building the canal as part of the land drainage and flood alleviation for the site.

Swindon Borough Council has just launched a Switch On to Swindon publicity campaign to promote the town. www.switchontoswindon.com I am sure we would all have much more reason to support this initiative if the restored canal was the focus for the town centre regeneration. The W&B team are still working very hard to persuade the decision makers this is the right thing to do and we hope to have some more to report soon. The message should be very clear-  we are well on the way to rebuilding the canal- this is not an aspiration - it is happening now and the waterway, and Swindon in particular, will be the centre of a revived Southern Canals Network.

Last stop for the week with Max from the WBCT land team to discuss a proposal to extend Jubilee Junction (Abingdon) -we hope a proposed scheme will be able to progress in harmony with completion of some gravel abstraction. Its too early for any details but we all would like to make some progress 'in the east'.

Ken Oliver

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Here there and everwhere!

This week started at Wiltshire Council HQ in Trowbridge meeting colleagues from neighbouring Local Authorities and Canal & River Trust  to discuss how we might take a common approach to assess the housing needs on boat dwellers. The rapid rise of house prices in the south has made living on a boat a financially attractive option and Government have asked all LA's to include boats in their assessments. With the help of CRT we hope to repeat for the Kennet & Avon Canal the recent survey of boaters carried out in the London area. Back via a meeting with WBCT Chairman and Masterplanner at Dauntsey to discuss central Swindon plans.
The Wilts & Berks Team meet by conference call weekly on a Tuesday morning - this augments the online activity reporting system which is designed to keep us all in sync with other activities .
Reading was my  next destination that day to represent Wiltshire on the Thames Path Partnership. One of  number of National Trails like so many other centrally funded projects the future is less than certain as the annual funding offer for next year has still not been agreed
Wednesday was an office day catching up and completing proposals to send to the National Infrastructure Commission highlighting the merits of considering the Southern Canals Network (Wilts & Berks + Cotswold Canals).
Another day on Thursday criss-crossing Wiltshire & Oxfordshire-Chippenham first thing to collect some reports and then on to Calne to a meeting of the Wiltshire (N) Flood Group - I sit in on this group to deal with any canal issues or opportunities to look at flood relief schemes, and then on via the Trust office at Dauntsey Lock (just in time to see the delivery of the new carpet) to Vale of White Horse District Council offices in Milton. VWHDC are the last of the 3 Local Authorities on the Wilts & Berks Canal route to roll out their new Local Plan. An essential part for the canal restoration is continuing to keep the route protected from development and this meeting identified a number of evidence documents that are required to demonstrate that the canal can actually be constructed. VWHDC expect to publish in the next month  a 'Preferred Options' document for this part of the Local Plan and to have the whole process completed by 2018 (In the meanwhile the route is still protected by carry over of the policies in the 2011 Local Plan).

And finally 'back to the start' on Friday at County Hall to take part in theWiltshire Council Travellers strategy group (to report on canal matters concerning itinerant boat dwellers).

Perhaps you might like to be 'Guest Editor' for this blog?? - In conjunction with WBCT Communications Director Shiela Wade we thought it might be interesting to see the project from another perspective- if you might like to 'have a go' please get in touch:  info@canalpartnership.org.uk

Ken Oliver

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Motorway, reservoir and all things Swindon

With all the festivities well and truly forgotten this was the first full week back at work and judging from the ever increasing number of diary appointments it is going to be a busy year.
Certainly centre stage this week has been the canal in Swindon. Two consultations are about to, or have closed on various aspects of Wichelstowe. The WBCT engineering team which met this week are looking at what kind of culvert would be best to go under the M4. To tunnel under the M4 and not interrupt the motorway traffic is a challenge- you may have seen elsewhere a few years ago  at Maidenhead where a temporary diversion of the carriageways was made while construction took place. Unfortunately this is not an option for us as the nearby railway line prevents the diversion .The solution will most likely be a jacked box  section where a preformed box is forced under the carriageways and then the materials removed. The added challenge at Wichelstowe is that there is a requirement for a road crossing too and we continue to discuss with the Swindon Borough team how both tunnels could be built at the same time , or preferably  a single tunnel for the road and canal.
Jacked box at J15a M1 (Images courtesy Robkins)

WBCT is keen to also discuss the canal link from the M4 south west to Hay Lane -this area is part of the Wichelstowe project but allocated for 'green space' but in engineering terms important as the masterplan will re-align the Wharf Road/Hay Lane junction.
Looking at another long term project, if you have been to Coate Water in Swindon in the last week you may may noticed that the water level has been reduced to allow some engineering works. You may be aware that Coate Water was built by the Wilts & Berks Canal Co to supply water to the canal (originally through a feeder stream that joined the canal near Greenbridge). The revised route for the mainline of the canal now passes close to Coate Water so it would be very useful to return the reservoir to its original use but there is of course a snag!! The reservoir was extended in the 1980's with a new section to the South East- the two sections being divided by a dam structure- this in itself not a restricting issue as when the water level falls in the main reservoir  the new section stays at the retained level. The real challenge is that the whole reservoir is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and we are currently trying to find out from Natural England if a habitat management plan could be put together for the SSSI that included variation in the water level of the main reservoir (especially in summer when water would be required for the canal).
This image (courtesy National Library of Scotland) shows the 1890 map of the original reservoir overlaid on the aerial imageof the reservoir today.

Ken Oliver

Friday, 6 January 2017

Hello & Happy New Year

I hope you will find the return of what I hope will be a weekly blog a useful way to keep in touch with Wilts & Berks and other canal matters
My role with the Wilts & Berks Canal restoration is to help advise the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust and other partner organistaions. You can see some of the work of the Wiltshire Swindon & Oxfordshire Canal Partnership at www.canalpartnership.org.uk . We aslo have a Twitter feed @wiltsberkscanal . 
So after enjoying the long Christmas & New Year Break it was back to work on Tuesday.
I was delighted to see that intitial works have started at Royal Wootton Bassett on the Templars Firs Extension which will eventually bring the canal  to Marlborougn Road.
On my list this week has been working with WBCT on two consultations for Swindon Wichelstowe and looking again at options of how the canal will cross under the M4
We hope that very soon that the Trust's planning application for the Melksham Link will be in a position to  be considerd by a Wiltshire Council Planning Committee.
Also on the 'nearly there' list is a major piece of work  being carried out by consulatants Peter Brett Associates who are mapping the the existing ecology on the canal line to help with future planning applications.
On Thursday I was invited to what turned out to be a marathon session of WBCT's Executive.
Delighted to hear at the meeting that WBCT is close to signing a lease on a further section of the canal in Oxfordshire  and we spent some time looking at another strategic section of the canal connecting Royal Wootton Bassett  to Swindon.
Following the meeting it has been agreed that I will help WBCT to submit a planning application at Stockham Farm (Grove). As part of a planning condition on an adjacent development, when this application has been successfully determined they will transfer a section of the canal to WBCT .
We also heard at the meeting from Sheila about the plans for a Towpath Festival in September  directly linked to a campaign to increase the number of  members of WBCT.
I am pleased to see every time I visit the Peterborough Arms that the great works by the team are edging closer to completion of the first phase of fully opening the ground floor area. 

Elsewhere I have  just completed work with the Cotswold Canals Trust for a planning application for Roundhouse Farm (nr Martson Meysey), and on the Kennet & Avon I am help CRT to get some new signage installed at Devizes Wharf.
Interestingly Information Boards will be a recurring theme as I have started some work to look at the Boards that describe Wiltshire's 9 White Horses at various locations and I am working on a programme of new boards for the Wilts & Berks - all of these will also have audio trails as part of the installation.

More next week