The Chesterfield Canal has been progressively restored over a number of years with public funding and voluntary labour from Worksop to Kiveton and between Chesterfield and Staveley, where it is currently being further extended by the Chesterfield Canal Trust (CCT). Its route is safeguarded in the relevant Local Plans. However, completion of the restoration between Staveley and Norwood Tunnel has been blighted by the plans for HS2 since 2013 and the present plans remain a threat to the project at Staveley, at Norwood, and possibly also at Chesterfield.
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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.
HS2 Phase 2B impact on the Chesterfield Canal
Staveley Infrastructure Maintenance Depot
The vast size and massive land take of the proposed Staveley Infrastructure Maintenance Depot (IMD) will significantly affect the environment and context of the Chesterfield Canal for most of its length between Hollingwood and Staveley. This section of canal has been restored as a public amenity and is very well used for towpath walking and cycling (estimated as 75,000 people annually), recreational boating and angling. It currently enjoys a largely open rural outlook which greatly adds to its amenity, but this is threatened by the IMD. The proposed Landscape Mitigation Planting and the canalside Woodland Habitat Creation needs to be planned to provide screening of the IMD buildings and its operational noise whilst minimising the loss of open views from the canal.
Any canalside woodland planting should be set back from the canal to minimise the increased maintenance costs from the need to regularly cut back overhanging vegetation, or from branches falling and leaves blowing into the canal necessitating more frequent dredging.
No information on the noise impacts of the construction and operation of the IMD has been provided, so the extent of this and the effectiveness of any mitigation measures cannot be assessed. However, given the size of the site, the nature of the operation, and night-time working, the impacts of noise are likely to be severe on the environment, amenity and tourism value of the canal, as well as local residents.
Mineral Railway Line
Reuse of the disused mineral railway line to access the proposed IMD should not be incompatible with restoration of the Chesterfield Canal at the original rail bridge crossing at Lowgates, west of Eckington Road Bridge, but HS2 has repeatedly failed to confirm the rail level at that point.
The mineral railway line was subject to some mining subsidence prior to its closure, reducing the headroom over the original canal level. Although the bridge deck was removed, the route was not fully abandoned and CCT needed to allow for its possible reinstatement. The Trust has therefore invested significant funds and voluntary labour in building a new canal lock at Staveley and restoring the channel below Ireland Close and Eckington Road at a lower level to pass under the mineral line. Recent excavation of the crossing point has found the original rail bridge abutments to be substantially intact and in good condition, allowing reinstatement of the rail bridge deck with sufficient headroom for the canal and its towpath.
The Trust has repeatedly tried to engage constructively with HS2 engineers to confirm the proposed new track levels to enable them to continue the canal restoration work without uncertainty about the compatibility of the future HS2 works. But despite several promises the necessary assurances have not been forthcoming, and there is no acknowledgement of the need to accommodate the canal route under the railway in the present consultation.
A recent statement to Parliament by the Secretary of State [HoC Transport Questions 1/10/2018] makes clear that the Government expect HS2 to avoid obstructing canal restoration projects. HS2 should now with some urgency work with Chesterfield Canal Trust and Derbyshire County Council (landowners of this part of the canal) to confirm the levels and that the reinstated railway will provide the necessary clearance over the restored Chesterfield Canal, in order to avoid severance of the protected canal route and to enable its restoration to proceed.
Public Realm at Staveley
The Proposed Scheme plans show three areas of ‘public realm’ along the Chesterfield Canal route; around Staveley Basin and on either side of Eckington Road Bridge. This is described as “to mitigate against loss of community areas by providing new areas of public realm along the Chesterfield Canal” with “a flexible public square around Staveley Canal Basin” and proposed “stepped terrace seating”. However, this has not been discussed with Chesterfield Canal Trust.
It is not clear where the “stepped terrace seating” is proposed to be located or why this has been suggested. The land around Staveley Canal basin is already a public space with plans to develop it further as a mixed recreation, residential and small business development in support of the public use of the canal, and such seating is no part of those plans. Most of the other two indicated ‘public realm’ areas have already been used as part of the restored canal or are needed to continue that work, so the purpose of HS2 designating them public realm is not clear, and the threat of HS2 compulsorily purchasing them is not acceptable.
Norwood Tunnel is historically important as one of the first major canal tunnels planned by the pioneering canal engineer James Brindley. It was in use from 1775 to 1907 when part of it collapsed due to coal mining subsidence. The Chesterfield Canal has been restored up to the eastern portal of Norwood Tunnel, and it is planned to reopen the first section of the tunnel to navigation. The central section of the tunnel will be bypassed by a surface level canal at a slightly higher level, incorporating a marina, and present plans for the western end require further locks up to a new summit level passing under the M1 by an existing culvert.
These plans were published in 2010 (Next Navigation: Restoration of the Chesterfield Canal between Staveley and Kiveton Park. Chesterfield Canal Partnership) but appear to have been entirely ignored by HS2. The Proposed Scheme plan shows almost the whole area between the Norwood Tunnel west portal and the M1 occupied by the Wales Embankment and landscape earthworks, leaving no space for the flight of locks needed to access the existing motorway underpass.
An Accommodation Underbridge is shown for Wales Footpath 14 and what appears to be a culvert for Wales Footpath 17 Diversion, but there is no accommodation for the canal route. These plans needs major changes to provide a sufficiently wide surface corridor for the canal, its locks and the necessary water storage ‘side ponds’, spanned by a wide canal underbridge.
An alternative recently considered by CCT is to bore a new tunnel under the highest ground at the western end. This would start close to the western portal and run just south of the original tunnel and at the same level to pass under HS2, the M1 and the highest ground. It would then connect with the central surface level section and the eastern end of the original tunnel as described above. This would reduce the number of new locks needed and the height of the summit level, giving construction, operational and water supply benefits.
HS2 should now with some urgency fully engage with the Chesterfield Canal Trust and the Canal & River Trust (landowners of Norwood Tunnel) to consider, design and cost the optimum engineering solution that will provide a restored section of the canal from Norwood to east of the M1 in conjunction with the construction of HS2.
An essential part of Phase 2B is now improvement to the Midland Main Line through Chesterfield which is very close to the Chesterfield Waterside development. This will provide a terminus for the restored canal, but there is no assessment of the economic or environmental impacts on it of the railway works.
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