Bring Closure on Canal Closure NOW Says Town Council

Albert Street Cutting – closed too long

Following concerns from members of the public, the Bridgwater & District Civic Society, Inland Waterways volunteers and Westover ward councillors, Bridgwater Town Council has called for a firm time plan for opening the Albert Street cutting otherwise they will not support a further extension. Town Council leader Brian Smedley visited the site with fellow Westover councillors Tim Mander and Kathy Pearce and issued the following statement .” Bridgwater Town Council, along with myself and Kathy as Unitary ward members, have been actively advocating for progress in carrying out the necessary work. We recognise that there are complexities involved in reopening this footpath, but, this has been going on since 2021 and it is crucial that we now start to see tangible progress. We understand that CRT (Canal & River Trust) has an ongoing competitive tender exercise to award a contract for these works. We are engaging with CRT to prevent any further delays and working with Somerset Rights of Way to demand any further extension only with a firm time limited plan in place and at the very most a 3 month completion.”

Wooden beams from the 1970’s

The section of the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal and therefore a key public right of way (between West Street and Albert Street) has been closed off since December 2021, due to concerns over the safety of the wooden beams which straddle the canal at that point. Westover ward councillors have spoken to both the Canal and Rivers Trust, who are the owners and Somerset Council’s Rights of Way teams in recent years, but the works are still yet to begin, with the date for completion constantly being changed.

Heritage Concerns

Steve Webber from Bridgwater and District Civic Society who’s mission is to protect Bridgwater’s heritage says “Each year I get told it’s being done, but unfortunately the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal seems to be in the bottom of the funding pot. With the beams in question being of historical significance and all the correct preservation permits in place, we can’t just let this rot away in the background.”

Town Council Leader Brian Smedley calls for action.

Cllr Smedley said “Getting these works done is now a priority because this slippage is worrying to us as we have plans to regenerate the docks and this stretch of canal needs re-opening well ahead of that. The works are the duty of the CRT but any further extension to the Public Right of Way closure order will be needed from Somerset County Council.”

Rights of Way issues

Pete Hobley , Somerset Rights of Way officer, responded “I completely appreciate the importance of this path and our duty is to protect and assert the right of the public to the use and enjoyment of the rights of way network.  Where public safety is compromised, we have powers to temporarily close, and in using those powers we need to hold the responsible bodies to account with regard to their work programme to make safe, and any reasoning they may provide for programme slippage and extension required of any temporary closure.   Where the responsible body is not expediting the work as quickly as we think they should have done or could have done, then a decision could be made to lift the temporary closure and initiate a public nuisance claim against them.  I don’t believe we’ve reached that stage with this one and I would have grave concerns about lifting the closure prior to remedial works being completed.  However, we will continue to ask searching questions of the CRT with regard to any delays or extension that may be sought and hold them to account as best we can. We are yet to receive a closure extension request but this is anticipated and we will challenge that the period of extension is kept as short a period as possible.”

Laura Mulholland from the CRT issued the following statement in response to ward members concerns in 2023  “The Canal & River Trust are also keen to see the canal reopened so that people can enjoy being beside the water in Bridgwater, and we are working as quickly as we can to get to that point.  Our concern is that the wooden props, installed in the 1970’s, have reached the end of their life and have begun deteriorating to the point that they are at risk of falling. In order to remove the props and reopen to the public, we need to have a robust monitoring strategy in place to continuously monitor the walls. We need to be confident that the walls are not moving. There is no evidence that the wooden props are providing any support to the walls; nor that the walls would be supported by the wooden props if they were to move.”

Cllr Tim Mander, Chair of Amenities Ctte and Westover councillor

Re-assuring New Statement from CRT

Following Bridgwater Town Council’s intervention this week the Canal and River Trust put out a new and  reassuring statement.

Benn Carroll  , Principal Project manager for the CRT, said “Our revised design scope to enable the cutting to be re-opened was submitted to our framework contractors for pricing in April with a 4-6 week turnaround time. It was necessary to revise the design scope as previous costs received from our main framework contractor were cost prohibitive and our staff have spent considerable time and effort to explore all options to allow us to re-open the cutting in a safe manner. Submission of the tender returns are due back next week from the contactors following a comprehensive tendering process. We will then be in a position to review the proposed methodologies, programme and cost for delivering the works and start planning for these activities. I fully appreciate the potential frustration that these delays are causing to the local residents, but let me assure you we are progressing as quickly as we are able to and we hope to be in a position to confirm proposed programmes within the next few weeks.”

Programme for Completion

Councillor Kathy Pearce ‘working with CRT going forward’

Cllr Tim Mander, (Westover) is the new Chair of the Town Council’s Amenities Committee. Tim said “It is good news that the CRT and the Rights of Way are now communicating with each other to get this work finally done and with the pressure from the Town Council and a timescale on the table, plus assurances that there is no danger to the public,  this stretch of canal can finally  be reopened,

Cllr Kathy Pearce (Westover) is also a county councillor for the area and vice chair of the new Town Council Amenities Committee. Kathy said “I have attended the CRT User Forum and am reassured that July is a reasonable date for completion. This is important because we want good relations with the CRT as we take on the docks. CRT have promised an urgent discussion with us about water licences and water management, and we welcome this.”

Leave a Reply