Town Development Forum supports Maritime Future for Bridgwater

dg050At this weeks meeting of the Bridgwater Town Development Forum, Ray Alexander from the Inland Waterways Association made a presentation urging Sedgemoor District Council and the Environment Agency to consider the future navigation options for the town by ensuring the Tidal Barrier was ‘futureproofed’ and had the potential for a lock and the penning of waters to make the river once more navigable and therefore opening up the commercial and community potentials of the docks and canal.

Cllr Brian Smedley opened the meeting by welcoming everyone and introduced guest speakers: Ray Alexander of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) and Doug Bamsey of Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) also speaking on behalf of the Environment Agency (EA).

 Regenerating Bridgwater’s Waterways – Presentation by Ray Alexander

 The IWA was founded in 1946.  It is a volunteer led charity with 15,000 members.  The aim of the IWA is to protect and restore waterways .  To date over 500 miles of waterways have been restored.

Ray gave examples of current restoration projects: Monmouthshire and Cotswolds Canals and River Tees Barrage.

Town Councillors Leavy and Glassford look out at the likely site of the Parrett Barrier.
Town Councillors Leavy and Glassford look out at the likely site of the Parrett Barrier.

It is the IWA’s view that the River Parrett, Bridgwater Docks and the Bridgwater – Taunton Canal have significant historic interest and present huge opportunities for regenerating Bridgwater and surrounding areas.

Two previous attempts to regenerate the local waterways had been made: a scheme led by Somerset County Council in the 1980s which included a tidal barrier and the second a bid in 2007 to the People’s Millions lottery funding called  ‘Waterlinks’.  Unfortunately, both had been unsuccessful.

The impact of the 2013 floods had led to the government tasking local agencies (led by the Environment Agency (EA) and Sedgemoor District Council) to work together to prevent future flooding.  This had resulted in an acceleration of proposals to construct the Parrett Barrier.  The target date for construction is 2024.  The IWA believes that this brings an unmissable and unique opportunity to not only address the flooding but to use it as a catalyst for regeneration of the waterways and Bridgwater.

At present the River Parrett, Bridgwater – Taunton Canal and Bridgwater Docks are underused and under-valued assets.  The IWA’s view is that the design of the barrier will be of paramount importance, ie to allow for the future penning the River Parrett at an optimum level for navigation during the summer months.  This would result in Bridgwater Docks being an attractive prospect for boaters.  The knock on benefits would be to secure long term economic benefits through promoting Bridgwater as an important tourist destination and subsequent regeneration of the docks and town centre.

Cllr Kathy Pearce "Tidal barrier is crucial to what else can be done on our waterways"
Cllr Kathy Pearce “Tidal barrier is crucial to what else can be done on our waterways”

The IWA had submitted their response to the recent consultation (Autumn 2015), including the following workstreams:

  • Tidal Barrier:
    • Inclusion of iconic features in the design of the barrier
    • Incorporation of navigation features, including a lock
    • Water level management issues
    • Provision of a visitors’ centre and tea room.
  • Bridgwater Docks:
    • Refurbishment of barge lock
    • Refurbishment of Bascule Bridge
    • Creation of visitor moorings in the inner basin
    • Water level management issues.
  • River Parrett and River Tone:
  • Installation of landing stages at visitor attractions and other locations
  • Dredging at various locations including the entrance to the barge lock
  • Various works upstream of Stanmoor .

The IWA also included in their proposal that the Council should consider making provision in the Local Plan for a marina to be built on the River Parrett.

River fails to come over the top
The River Parrett is a major part of Bridgwater

Whilst the EA were not currently including a provision for penning of water as part of their project, the IWA believed that this did not prevent someone else developing that idea and for the design of barrier to include provision for future penning of water as a sequential approach for the future.

A second public consultation will be held on 15th September 2016 at the Arts Centre.  This is expected to mainly consider the location of the barrier.

After September,  future activities will take place over the next 8 years:

  • Outline business case
  • Transport and Works Act order
  • Planning applications and planning enquiries
  • Build, commission and complete.

Once in place, the barrier is expected to be operational for 125 years, so the IWA consider this to be a once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve the wider benefits of achieving a barrier which gives wider opportunities.

Issues which need to be resolved are environmental impacts, such as stagnant water and weed growth, along with the funding.  However, the IWA consider that all of the issues can be overcome.

Can we get the river navigable once more?
Can we get the river navigable once more?

Sedgemoor and Environment Agency respond

At the conclusion of Ray’s presentation, Doug Bamsey gave a brief overview of progress so far.

Doug paid tribute to the IWA, as a key stakeholder.  He stressed that the key objective is the prevention of tidal flooding.  To date, much work had been done in developing a 10 year plan, which included the recent dredging and improvements to pumping stations.  As a result of the EA and SDC had been successful in achieving funding from the government for the barrier but any delays in delivering  a feasible scheme could jeopardise this.

Making the river accessible again to more than the occaisional porpoise
Making the river accessible again to more than the occaisional porpoise

Currently there were 3 options of barrier being considered, one of which could include the potential for future penning of water.  There was an issue of poor water quality and the EA were currently working to address this but the proposal to interrupt the tidal flow through penning did cause them concerns.  It was therefore important to balance the objectives and the EA were currently evaluating the penning and navigation proposals put forward by the IWA as part of that process.  It was anticipated that the barrier would be used increasingly over the future years as sea levels were predicted to rise.

Questions from the floor

Q: Why have so many houses been, and continue to be, built on low lying land/flood plain, thus exacerbating the flooding problem?

A: This is an historic issue which had been addressed by careful management of the water on the levels but it had become clear  that the building of walls to prevent flooding had become untenable and therefore a barrier was required to cope with rising sea levels.

Proposed riverside Hotel complex
Proposed riverside Hotel complex

Q: What is SDC doing to protect small businesses?

A: Over the past couple of years, dredging and improvements to pumping had been made to protect small business, Bridgwater and local residents as part of the 10 year Action Plan.

Q: Why don’t the EA want to pen the water?

A: The EA are saying that they do not wish to address the impact of water penning.  If the water was penned, careful management would be required.  The capacity for this is not possible within current EA funding and timescales.   If a solution could be found whereby another agency could pursue future water penning and management, then  future penning could become possible.

Q: Is future-proofing feasible for the barrier?

A: Yes, if the above issues were resolved.

Q: How will the silt in the river be managed?

A: Three options of barrier have been identified

  • Rising sector gate (would allow for penning) – comes up from bottom – can be flat or raised,
  • Radial gate
  • Vertical lift bridge.
Bridgwater Docks, Somersets hidden gem
Bridgwater Docks, Somersets hidden gem

Q: How does this compare with the project in Boston?

A: Joint working between EA/SDC and interested parties seems to be better to that in Boston.

Q: Who makes the final decision?

A: The Secretary of State for Environment (Defra) will ultimately sign off the funding, following local consultation and independent evaluation.

Recommendation to  Town Council:

It was unanimously agreed that the IWA proposals should be put forward as a recommendation to Bridgwater Town Council.

bri on a boat
Cllr Smedley ‘considering the aquatic options’

Cllrs Smedley and Pearce thanked guest speakers Ray Alexander and Doug Bamsey on behalf of the Town Development Forum for an interesting and informative meeting.

Cllr Brian Smedley said after the meeting “The case is clear that we need to future proof the Barrier project so that when funding is available we can still have the options available for opening up our waterways.We want to see craft mooring in the docks, using the canal, pulling up on West Quay to use our foreshores, dropping tourists at landing stages along the river and increasing our opportunities for water based activities. Getting the barrier right is crucial at this time.”