Canal Clean Up – Volunteers wanted

canal clean up
Volunteers are a crucial part of Canal maintenance

On Wednesday 9th July 2014, from 10.00am – 2.00pm, you can join the Inland Waterways Association West Country Branch at Bridgwater Docks to tidy up the area surrounding the canal.

Volunteer Mike Slade said “Volunteers meet here regularly to keep the area smart and tidy. You can take part in this contribution to the local community whilst enjoying time outside this summer. Volunteers are meeting outside The Admirals Landing, The Docks, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA6 3E at 10am and working to around 2pm.”

“Volunteers are advised to wear suitable clothes and be prepared for the weather. Under-18s welcome but must be supervised by a responsible adult. If you are interested in getting involved do not hesitate to get in touch for more information.”

The future of the canal

new canal path
Works are being done to upgrade the canal towpath

The future of the Bridgwater-Taunton canal was raised by Westover councillors recently as they undertook to carry out a community consultation on what was wanted.

Cllr Brian Smedley, who attended his first meeting this week as a Sedgemoor rep on the Somerset Waterways Advisory Committee, said “The SWAC group has been in existence for sometime looking at ways to improve the Canal with ever dwindling resources and things don’t seem to be getting any better. The aspirations of the IWA are to get the canal back functioning again with navigation and enhanced use for tourists as well as the current users. The reality is that different agencies are working together to make their own contributions where possible and so we have seen the recent towpath improvements, most recently extending through the Westover ward between Albert street and Hamp bridge. This has been achieved  with funding from the DfT Sustainable Transport Fund and managed by Somerset County Council.”

One issue that has caused surprise is the failure to provide ‘mixed use’ signage designating both pedestrian and cyclist access on the footpaths. County Councillor for Bridgwater South, Leigh Redman, said this was a concern to him but it was ‘county policy that footpaths had to be a certain width and include seperated pedestrian and cyclist lanes’. “This has caused a major logistical problem in Hamp Ward alongside Brownes Pond where the footpath is clearly too narrow for two lanes and runs alongside a ditch yet elsewhere in the country council’s manage by not operating this restrictive policy”. There are plans for cycle paths to extend from Bridgwater on to Dunball as part of the Bridgwater Way.

Serious funding issues

bri on a boat
“Re-opening the canal for boats requires major levels of funding. But first we need to find out if the people want this.” Cllr Brian Smedley

The maintenance work of the Canal falls within the remit of the Canal and River Trust, which has also been involved in flood mitigation, recovery and assistance. However, there were serious funding issues for the future as although SCC, SDC and Taunton Deane have contributed £46,000 for 2014-15 it is unlikely that this level of funding will be maintained.

Cllr Smedley said “It’s clear that there will be a gap between aspiration and reality and that gap will be defined by what funding can be brought in. On the one hand we can rely on volunteers to do the great work they’ve been doing, cleaning up, picking litter,lending a hand and attempt to keep the maintenance costs to a minimum or we can make a serious effort to attract funding. To get the canal back to a navigable standard, dredging and weed clearance is a priority but one which seems currently unaffordable.”

At the County meeting Cllr Smedley undertook to raise the issue as a priority at Augusts Bridgwater Town Council meeting where councillors and members of the public can have their say on the future of their canal. The meeting will be on Thursday 7th August 7.30 Bridgwater Town Hall.