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.

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