16 May 2010

Canal update

Well this blog is a bit of a hurried ramble with some of the latest canal news and the meeting I had this week re the canal developments - but first a week or so ago I was down at Saul and took one of their boat trips on the Perserverance (see photo left).

The Perserverance goes regularly for a 20 to 30 minute boat trip at weekends and I think bank holidays - see details here - well worth a go and of course coffee at the nearby Heritage Centre or cafe - things are really coming together there - but still lots of potential...B&Bs on the water, more boat trips etc.

On my visit I also managed to take in Frampton Fair - Frampton on Severn has 22 acres of green - the largest in the country! Great pub there....anyway as regular blog readers will know we established the Stroud Valleys Water Forum a year ago and have been meeting each two months - have recently had meeting with Severn Trent - see here and with Environment Agency - see here...well this last week we met with Paul Coupe who is leading the canal development for the District Council.

Canal discussed at forum

Well folk may remember I have had a number of very serious concerns about the canal development - I have asked a number of key questions in the past that have remained unanswered. I was able to ask some of those again and things have moved on so some answers were forthcoming...

Photos: above and below presentation slides including cutting the reeds

Indeed in December 2008 when the canal got the go-ahead - see here my blog - I did not get answers to my questions - indeed without answers I could not really say what we were voting on - a leap of faith perhaps but in the end I abstained from the vote - certainly the money coming in will be good for the District and help maintain jobs in a time of economic challenges but without answers...anyway I've been over that before - See also previous blog in June 2008 : Canal vote: millstone or flagship? with more discussion and key questions that Greens were asking.

I remember for example Green councillor Fi MacMillan used the Members question time a while back to ask about the canal and what return could be expected - she gave the example of the Council's programme of business audits which will release between £45 and £55 of value to local businesses for every £1 invested - money saved in their energy bills - savings will accrue over a 10 year period and directly support small and medium businesses which are at the heart of our local economy - and potentially save 9,000 tonnes of carbon. The answers re carbon savings re the canal were understandably vague - and a 6 to 1 return on investment was expected on money invested in the canal - but as Fi pointed out the figures for the project were done in a time of economic growth and when climate change was not seen as such a priority. Having said that I think the canal will have huge benefits - see list above - but also lots of intangible stuff - but the question remains about the Council potential using large sums of tax payers money on this project when we have huge numbers of people in fuel poverty and many other key priorities.....

Canal - will it increase flood risk?

Anyway Wednesday night we had an excellent presentation from Paul Coupe - loved his enthusiasm and straight answers - the challenges are considerable - see top 10 risks slide - see also the slide re Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed below.

However while we looked at those issues, one of the main reasons we were there was to look in some detail at issues re flooding. Now I can't go into all the details here but I have to note I was greatly reassured by the modeling and plans for the canal - it would appear that it will not add to problems faced by those downstream like at Brigend. The slide here shows the amount of water joining the canal at various points - however there are still problems with sewage - I'll save those for another blog.

More news re canal

The biggest news is that the A46 Merrywalks Bridge replacement contract has now been awarded to Carillion. Work has already started with traffic soon to be rerouted over the old Wallbridge Bridge between June and mid-November. Work is being led by Gloucestershire County Council, but roughly two-thirds funded by SDC from Canal Project resources. The opportunity is being taken to restore Wallbridge Upper and Lower Locks at the same time, thus saving cost and reducing disruption. A planning application for the lock work was submitted last week.

A planning application has also been submitted for installing new gates and a bypass duct at Ryeford Double Lock; Listed Building Consent has already been given. Meanwhile, tenders have been invited for clearing the channel this side of Ryeford Double Lock and for ground investigations along the entire length between Stonehouse Ocean and Brimscombe.

Work has also started on laying an upgraded towpath over 700m between Ocean and Stonehouse Bridge (Downton Road) - some 200m completed. I was delighted to hear that this will be at least 2m wide wherever possible, with a recycled hardcore surface looking like gravel. The work is being undertaken by Reach – an organisation giving skills to the long-term unemployed and community payback offenders. This will inevitably mean temporary closures of the towpath and some inconvenience to users. Meanwhile Cotswold Canals Trust (CCT) volunteers also continue with their regular work parties.

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