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
@canalken.



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
@canalken

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.
https://www.facebook.com/wiltsberkscanal/posts/10154435129142972


Ken Oliver
@canalken

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
@canalken
 

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
@canalken

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
@canalken

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

Ken
@canalken