Wilts & Berks Canal Local Authority Liaison Group set up, 1987

Taken from an article by Amenity Group chairman Noel Griffiths in 'Dragonfly' issue 30, July 1987:

During the last year the growing interest in the restoration of the old Wilts & Berks Canal has been marked and the county and district councils in the area have been co-operating with the Wilts & Berks Canal Amenity Group to an extent that is extremely encouraging. Though overgrown, the canal bed is still visible at many points and the potential for recovery and for providing a valuable amenity is plainly evident. With the assistance of the county and local councils and the Manpower Services Commission, the work of restoration could well provide an employment opportunity for many years to come.

An example of this co-operation is provided by the Policy Statement issued in June last year by the West Wilts District Council in which they confirm their commitment to "safeguarding the alignment of the Wilts & Berks Canal .... for restoration to a navigable standard" (Policy 11) and their intention (Policy 12) to "initiate the setting up of an advisory group, representing local authority and voluntary interests, to further investigate the scope for redevelopment of the Wilts & Berks Canal".

In December 1986 the Council's Chief Planning Officer, Stephen Blades, called a meeting of representatives from Wiltshire County Council, West and North Wilts District Councils, Wessex Water Authority, the Inland Waterways Association and the Wilts & Berks Canal Amenity Group in pursuance of his council's policy with regard to the restoration of the Wilts & Berks Canal. In his introduction Stephen drew attention to the remarks in the Statement concerning the need for wider discussion of some of the issues involved in order to prevent unnecessary work.

It was felt by those present that general support would be given and that the agreement of the parent bodies to setting up the group proposed would be sought in due course. In the meantime it was felt that, until such time as the group was fully established, membership should be restricted to those bodies represented at the meeting and that the new group should concern itself only with those sections of the canal that lie between the Kennet & Avon Canal and the western boundary of the Borough of Thamesdown.. It was further suggested that, for the present, it should not be "advisory" but rather for the purpose of providing liaison between those concerned. Lastly the meeting recommended that Mike Luton of West Wilts Planning Department should chair the new group.

In his capacity as Chairman, Mike was asked to draw up draft Terms of Reference for discussion and approval at the first meeting of the new committee to be held on March 5th. In order to provide members of the group with a better understanding of the task ahead the W&BCAG agreed to arrange a visit to selected sections of the canal before this meeting.

Accordingly, on the morning of 5th March, a party comprising the majority of the members of the new group assembled near Lyneham to view sections of the abandoned canal at a number of points where access can be readily obtained. The first stop was at Seven Locks since this is one of the sections of considerable historic importance. At present the canal in this area is, as it is in many other areas, very overgrown, but it is possible, nevertheless, to examine the canal bed, the holding pounds between the locks and what remains of the locks themselves. Unfortunately the locks have been badly damaged as many of the bricks have been removed from time to time for re-use as building material or for hardcore; and as, during the last war, army personnel used them for training in demolition. However, enough remains to justify restoration though inevitably it will be many years before such restoration can be fully achieved. In the meantime it is proposed to clear the undergrowth and to partially restore some or all of the locks in order to form an open air museum of canal construction.

The party then moved to Dauntsey Lock. Here the bed is visible to the east and west but at Dauntsey Lock itself it has been filled in for several hundred metres and is crossed by the A420 road. Clearly restoration of this length will present major problems and cannot be contemplated for many years to come. Hopefully however it will be possible to restore some sections to the east and west at an earlier date and even to operate a traditional type of canal boat of some form.

Next the party inspected a length of canal near Foxham where the bed and the remains of Foxham lock are plainly evident and some clearance has just started.

At Semington there is a short length of canal adjacent to the A350 road where the Canal Group have, in the past, put forward tentative suggestions for the preservation of the line even though it is highly unlikely that this length would ever form part of a through waterway. It was thought that it might be possible to develop it as an amenity area and the West Wilts District Council have made special reference to it in their Policy Statement (Policy 13). But there are serious problems here as the canal is very close to the roadway and tends to be polluted by run-off from it. A study is presently being carried out by the Wilts & Berks Canal Amenity Group.

After a short stop at Semington the party next went to Whaddon where it is proposed that a short junction canal should be constructed to connect the River Avon with the Kennet & Avon Canal. This is needed as part of a scheme to use the river for navigation, as the old route of the canal through the town has been extensively built over. A survey of the area has already been carried out for the Canal Group by Southend Technical College and it has now been arranged that the Oxford Polytechnic should carry out an Engineering and Feasibility Study later this year. The link would involve the construction of about 1000 metres of canal and three locks, as there is a difference in level of eight or nine metres. It is hoped that this work could be carried out by means of an MSC scheme backed by the local councils.

In conclusion it is appropriate to record the Canal Group's appreciation of the interest shown in the restoration of the old canal and the support given by the various authorities in the area. The setting up of the Liaison Group is a great step forward and there is every reason to believe that, with growing support founded on this excellent beginning, it should be possible to commence restoration in earnest within the next two or three years.

In 1997, cooperation went up another gear when a Local Authority-Controlled Company (or 'LACCo') named the 'Wilts & Berks Canal Trust' was incorporated, which later evolved into the Wilts & Berks Canal Partnership - thus freeing-up the W&BCT name to be used by the Amenity Group.