The northern part of the Ashby Canal between Moira and Snarestone was closed by 1966, but has been under progressive restoration for the past 25 years.
The section from Moira to Donisthorpe was reopened by 2005, and in that year Leicestershire County Council obtained a Transport & Works Act Order to restore the canal from Snarestone to Measham. The required land was purchased and a section of canal north from Snarestone has since been completed. A further section of canal was due to be reconstructed as part of the Measham Wharf and housing site development which has planning consent but has been delayed and blighted by the constantly changing plans for HS2.
The original 2013 Phase 2 route on the west side of Measham crossed the restoration route of the Ashby Canal without any provision for a bridge despite the existence of the TWA Order.
The 2016 Preferred Route belatedly recognised that the original route would have destroyed Measham’s major employment site and proposed a new route to the east of Measham. This avoided the Ashby Canal within Measham and the major housing site that was planned to include its restoration. However, it would have crossed the canal route on the edge of the town at entirely the wrong level, requiring a canal diversion from the TWA route with major engineering challenges, and making no provision for this.
In 2017 the third route at Measham was announced, reverting to the west side but avoiding the major employment site. However, this cuts through the housing site rendering it largely unviable and losing the community benefit of the associated canal restoration. Again, no bridge or provision for the canal restoration was included on the plans at that stage.
All these routes appear to have been devised as desk studies without taking full account of vital local interests. Accordingly, the housing site developer has since submitted plans for an alternative route that would both protect the main employment site and avoid the housing site, enabling the canal restoration to proceed, known as Route 4 (see below).
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HS2 Phase 2B affects 16 inland waterways, both canals and river navigations, in at least 22 locations, including three canal restoration schemes.
Current HS2 plans and their impact on the Ashby Canal
Following our earlier representations, we are pleased to note that the Proposed Scheme plan now shows an Ashby Canal Restoration Underbridge at the end of the River Mease Viaduct. A further bridge for the canal is shown under the proposed access road to a large balancing pond situated between HS2 and the A42. Both these bridges should provide a minimum of 3m air draft clearance and conform to the other TWAO design standard dimensions.
The A42 is to be realigned starting from a point just west of where it crosses the historic Ashby Canal route, and if Route 4 is accepted the realignment would commence further west. Either way, the Design Manual for Roads & Bridges requires DfT highway improvement schemes to include navigable crossings for recognised waterway restoration projects. The canal route is protected in the NWLDC Local Plan and IWA therefore expects that the work to realign the A42 should include an underbridge for the continuation of the canal restoration. This should also be to the TWAO dimensions, although the water level could possibly be reduced if necessary to provide sufficient headroom by construction of a canal lock between the HS2 and A42 bridges, which may assist in reducing the height of the balancing pond access road. A canal bridge under the A42 would also provide a towpath connection and obviate the need for the lengthy diversion of footpath P75/6 which as indicated would create an additional obstacle to the canal restoration unless a footbridge is provided across its line on the west side of the A42.
If for any reason the Route 4 alternative is not adopted and the current HS2 plans do proceed then the authorised Waterside housing site will not be built and HS2 Ltd will undoubtedly have to pay substantial compensation to the developer. The development would have provided about 1.1km of reconstructed canal at a cost of about £3.5m as a community benefit, and IWA would expect this to be funded as part of the compensation package. The obvious arrangement would then be for Leicestershire County Council to receive this part of the compensation and for them to construct the canal as they are already authorised to do so by the TWA Order.
Extensive noise barriers are shown on the Operational Noise Contour map along the east side of HS2 to protect housing but mitigation fencing should also be provided for future users of the Ashby Canal on the west side north of Burton Road.
Alternative Route 4
An alternative route for HS2 at Measham is being promoted by the affected housing site developer Measham Land Co. and other local interests, known as Route 4, which would move both HS2 and the A42 realignment further west. This would enable the housing site and the integral canal reconstruction to proceed, and would also reduce the number of residential properties affected, be broadly cost neutral in construction, avoid the development compensation payments, and minimise the overall adverse impacts. It is supported by IWA, although we realise that it will be decided on a broad balance of economic, social and environmental factors.
With support from the local MP, the Secretary of State has agreed to review and consult on this alternative. It is also noted that the HS2 Independent Design Panel has visited Measham and recommended development of a masterplan and collaborative engagement with the community, which could include “contributing to the restoration of the canal”.
We look forward to acceptance of the Route 4 alignment and the removal of the threats to the continuing restoration of the Ashby Canal.
If this does become the final route then the same requirements for both an HS2 and an A42 crossing of the canal will still apply, although the exact locations of the bridges will of course change.
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