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 

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