Canal Boat - - This Month -

Can new homes help cre­ate a new gen­er­a­tion of wa­ter­ways and make de­vel­op­ments more pop­u­lar?

OUR RESTORA­TION FEA­TURE ar­ti­cle in the Oc­to­ber 2011 Canal Boat be­gan with the words ‘A row of town houses faces the canal across a gravel towpath’, de­scrib­ing the foot­bridge, road bridge and lock which com­pleted the scene – be­fore pro­vid­ing the rather star­tling rev­e­la­tion that a year ear­lier there had been nei­ther town nor canal there.

In fact there had never been a canal there. This was Wichel­stowe, a ma­jor hous­ing de­vel­op­ment on the south side of Swin­don in­cor­po­rat­ing the con­struc­tion of a new length of the Wilts & Berks Canal (whose orig­i­nal line lies partly buried un­der the town cen­tre).

It was an ex­am­ple of ‘de­vel­op­ment-led restora­tion’. And to­day, the idea of de­vel­op­ers and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties cre­at­ing lengths of canal to im­prove the value and at­trac­tion of de­vel­op­ment schemes is start­ing to ex­tend to not just recre­at­ing aban­doned his­toric wa­ter­ways, but build­ing brand new ones.

We have, to a cer­tain ex­tend, been here be­fore. The phrase ‘de­vel­op­ment-led restora­tion’ be­came cur­rent among canal re­stor­ers 30 years ago when it was first re­alised that a canal at the end of the gar­den was no longer some­thing to keep quiet about, but could ac­tu­ally add value to a house. Un­for­tu­nately (and not helped by one or two ‘restora­tion re­ports’ from less-than-rep­utable sources which turned out not to be worth the pa­per they were printed on), de­vel­op­ment-led canal restora­tion didn’t al­ways live up to the early hopes. Some re­cent ex­am­ples sug­gest, how­ever, that per­haps its time has come.

£ 8.75M FOR THE DAVENTRY ARM? The plan to build a new canal arm to con­nect the Grand Union Canal to Daventry was cov­ered in de­tail in last month’s Canal Boat. But even in the short time since then it has moved a step closer to re­al­ity with the ap­proval by Daventry District Coun­cil’s Strat­egy Group of £ 8.715m to­wards a three quar­ter-mile length of wa­ter­way – although it still awaited full coun­cil ap­proval as we went to press.

The money, funded ini­tially by the district coun­cil (but with the hope that hous­ing de­vel­op­ers would con­trib­ute to the cost), would pay for con­struc­tion of the mid­dle sec­tion of the canal arm, which falls within an area sched­uled for ma­jor res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment.

It would also in­clude a long-term moor­ing basin and a foot­bridge con­nect­ing to the Coun­try Park which sur­rounds Daventry Reser­voir. The con­nect­ing link (with locks or lift) to the GU Main Line would still need to be funded and built, as would the fi­nal sec­tion at the Daventry end, which would form part of a town cen­tre re­gen­er­a­tion.

Chair­man of the Daventry Canal As­so­ci­a­tion Dean Hawkey cau­tioned Canal Boat that he couldn’t pre­dict how the full coun­cil would vote on July 27. How­ever although the plans are con­tro­ver­sial (one op­po­si­tion coun­cil­lor de­scribed the canal scheme as ‘lu­di­crous’), he felt that with sup­port from lo­cal busi­nesses the mo­men­tum was in favour of ap­proval. If agreed, a 14-month con­struc­tion pro­gramme would start in April 2019. BED­FORD-MK: PART OF THE PLAN? Some 30 miles south-east from Daventry, an­other ma­jor green­field de­vel­op­ment scheme could also help to cre­ate a new nav­i­ga­tion: the Bed­ford & Mil­ton Keynes Wa­ter­way Trust’s pro­posed new link, to be built as a wa­ter­ways park con­nect­ing the Grand Union Canal to the River Great Ouse.

The Draft Lo­cal Plan for Cen­tral Bed­ford­shire, which will pro­vide over­all guid­ance for plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions be­tween now and 2035, in­cludes op­tions for a se­ries of ‘new vil­lages’ in three ar­eas of the county.

Two of these ar­eas are on the route of the pro­posed wa­ter­way: As­p­ley Guise – three vil­lages, to­talling 3,000 new homes plus em­ploy­ment land; Marston Vale – four vil­lages, to­talling 5,000 new homes plus em­ploy­ment land.

The Plan notes that there are al­ready a num­ber of lakes in the area re­sult­ing from for­mer clay pits which ‘of­fer sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial for recre­ation and tourism and could be uni­fied as the pro­posed Bed­ford to Mil­ton Keynes Wa­ter­way’. It en­vis­ages the wa­ter­way be­ing de­liv­ered by de­vel­op­ers and form­ing a cen­tral fea­ture link­ing the new vil­lages.

B& MKWT Chair Jane Hamil­ton said: “We are de­lighted that the role which the Wa­ter­way Park can play in cre­at­ing an at­trac­tive lo­ca­tion around which new homes and busi­nesses can grow has been recog­nised by Cen­tral Bed­ford­shire Coun­cil.” She added that the Trust hoped it would “add a pos­i­tive to the al­ways dif­fi­cult de­bate about new homes”. WILTS & BERKS: FILL­ING THE GAPS Although the Wilts & Berks is a restora­tion scheme, there are some key places in which it is likely that it will amount to some­thing more like a new wa­ter­way. At its three ex­trem­i­ties – the links to the Ken­net & Avon, the Thames, and via its North Wilts branch to the Cotswold Canals – im­por­tant sec­tions have disappeared un­der Melk­sham, Abing­don and Crick­lade re­spec­tively.

And at the cen­tre where the three arms meet, Swin­don has oblit­er­ated miles of the orig­i­nal route. The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust’s plans will see sig­nif­i­cant new canal con­struc­tion in all four of these ar­eas – to the point where the re­stored Wilts & Berks will prob­a­bly in­volve more new canal than the newly-built Bed­ford & Mil­ton Keynes. And on the south side of Swin­don, the first of these lengths is well un­der way.

As de­scribed in our in­tro­duc­tion, the first length of the new wa­ter­way route (which is planned to cre­ate an east-west by­pass around the town) was con­structed as part of East Wichel. This, the first phase of the Wichel­stowe res­i­den­tial ex­pan­sion to the south of the town, has been fol­lowed by the start of work on Mid­dle Wichel. Although this new phase won’t cre­ate any more new wa­ter­way, it will be cen­tred on a re­stored length of the orig­i­nal canal – and give it a new canal­side pub.

The plan is that the fi­nal phase, West Wichel, will link the new length of canal al­ready built to the orig­i­nal route, and also cre­ate an­other new length which might in turn help to get the re­stored canal un­der the M4 – one of the more se­ri­ous ob­struc­tions on the route. That would bring it closer to link­ing up with sec­tions cur­rently un­der restora­tion, bring­ing the prospect of through nav­i­ga­tion from Swin­don to Woot­ton Bas­sett.

Mean­while at the south end of the canal, a plan dubbed the Melk­sham Link, fore­sees mak­ing use of part of the River Avon through Melk­sham, once again with hous­ing de­vel­op­ment de­liv­er­ing the new canal sec­tions to con­nect it to the Ken­net & Avon.

Those are three cur­rent ex­am­ples, but there are more. On a smaller scale, the re­de­vel­op­ment of Dunsfold Aero­drome and the Brim­scombe Port in­dus­trial es­tate could help a great deal with re­open­ing the Wey & Arun and Cotswold canals, while a town cen­tre re­gen­er­a­tion in Ch­ester­field prom­ises a ur­ban ter­mi­nus for a re­stored Ch­ester­field Canal, around a basin al­ready ex­ca­vated.

But the com­ment by Jane Hamil­ton about the ‘dif­fi­cult de­bate’ is a per­ti­nent one. Many lovers of our coun­try’s tra­di­tional wa­ter­ways and quiet coun­try­side will cringe at the thought of yet more acres of farm­land dis­ap­pear­ing un­der hous­ing, wince at de­scrip­tions of ‘new vil­lages’ by the waterside, and swear that they will scream if they hear the words ‘vi­brant canal quar­ter’ to de­scribe a waterside de­vel­op­ment one more time.

But if lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are de­ter­mined that hous­ing, re­tail or of­fice con­struc­tion must take place on these sites, it will of­ten be a choice of de­vel­op­ment-plus-canal or de­vel­op­ment with­out.

Not all of these pro­pos­als will come to fruition. The post-Brexit re­ces­sion pre­dicted by some EU sup­port­ers might cause a ma­jor slow­down in home con­struc­tion, as did the 2008 eco­nomic down­turn.

Many of these plans are con­tentious among lo­cal politi­cians: an elec­tion and change of rul­ing party could scup­per them. And the Bed­ford­shire vil­lages idea is only one of a num­ber of op­tions be­ing con­sid­ered. But per­haps, in a decade or two’s time, we’ll be cruis­ing to new des­ti­na­tions which have only been made ac­ces­si­ble thanks to such schemes and won­der­ing where else this ap­proach might lead…

New homes and new canal at East Wichel

Bed­ford­shire Plan - with canal

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