IWA West Country Branch is very active in campaigning for waterways in the area.
The Sou’Wester is the quarterly regional newsletter for IWA South West and South Wales Region, which covers Avon & Wiltshire, Gloucestershire & Herefordshire, South Wales, and West Country branches.
Bridgwater Docks remains empty. Bridgwater received £5.2m from the Towns’ Fund, of which £4.2m was specifically directed at improving the docks. The District Council has stated that it intends to replace much of the existing infrastructure to provide high quality residential and leisure moorings. I t is anticipated that designs will be submitted for planning approval by 2024, with works expected to be completed by 2025, at which point the site will be transferred to Bridgwater Town Council.
West Country Branch AGM
The AGM of the West Country Branch was held on 30th March 2023.
Our Branch AGM this year is being held on Zoom for the third year running as the Branch committee concluded that the previous two AGMs, including the open forum held immediately thereafter, were relatively successful. The agenda for the 2023 Annual General Meeting was published in Sou’Wester 192 and has been included in this pack of papers as well.
Once again, I should like to thank all the members of the Committee for their continued involvement in the past year. I should particularly mention Chris Jewell, who has been a committee member for many years and has contributed much to the Branch during this time. Chris is stepping down at the conclusion of the AGM but I am pleased say that he will continue to represent the Branch on both the Bude Canal & Harbour Society committee (of which he is Chairman) and on the Rolle Canal & North Devon Waterways Society committee.
Our Region Chair, Roger Francis, resigned during the year to concentrate on his projects and we were delighted to welcome as Region Chair Hannah Sterritt, who lives on her boat on the Mon & Brec canal and is also an IWA Trustee, which helpfully provides direct contact for the Branch with the Trustee Board.
Branch member and one-time IWA Trustee Peter Kelly died on 8th February 2022 and his funeral was held on 11th March. Along with a number of IWA members, I was privileged to attend Peter’s funeral online and to listen to the fitting tributes paid to Peter by his former Royal Navy colleagues and others. An obituary for Peter was included in Sou’Wester 190.
Members will be aware that the Branch Committee made an appeal last autumn for members to join the committee and in particular to take on the roles of Branch Secretary, Work Party Co-ordinator, Publicity Officer and Events Co-ordinator. This was sent to all Branch members, nearly 500, but generated little interest in taking on these roles, which therefore remain unfilled. In addition to these roles, the committee wishes to appoint a Heritage Champion, a Membership Secretary and also a new Chairman, as I am proposing to step down from this role within the next 12 months. If any member is interested in one or more of these roles, please get in touch with me.
None of the existing committee members are required to stand for re-election to the committee at the AGM. Thus no resolution regarding this will be put to the meeting under Agenda item 5.
Volunteer Work Parties
Our regular volunteer work parties, which are normally held twice a week at Bridgwater, less frequently at Taunton and monthly at Langport, have continued through the year, although the total number of work parties and hence the hours recorded has been lower than in the previous year. The new agreement that was entered into between the Branch and Somerset County Council (the freeholder of Bridgwater Docks) in October 2021, whereby our work party volunteers continue to maintain certain aspects of the Docks and the IWA cabin continues to be based at the Docks, has been extended for a further year.
Perhaps the highlight of the year was the awards we received for the volunteer work party activities, which included:
An award by Sedgemoor District Council at a “Keep Sedgemoor Tidy” event on 1 July at the Canal Centre near the former Crossways Swing Bridge, which recognised the achievements of a number of volunteer groups throughout Sedgemoor.
An award from Canal & River Trust, presented at a ceremony on 20 July at the Victoria Park Community Centre in Bridgwater. This recognised the completion of 25,000 hours of volunteer activity on the Bridgwater & Taunton canal under the two 5-mile adoption agreements between IWA and CRT (see photo below).
A BBC Make a Difference Award, which was awarded to Rob Crumb, Langport Team Leader in recognition of his work in organising and carrying out litter picks in and around Langport, thus helping to keep the town and its riverside clean and tidy. The BBC Make a Difference Awards celebrate people who go above and beyond to make a difference where you live.
Last, but by no means least, Mike Slade was awarded a Richard Bird medal at the IWA National AGM in Lichfield and very well deserved it was after some 8 years as Volunteer Co-ordinator for the Branch. Richard Bird medals are presented to members whose efforts and support are considered to have brought significant benefit to the Association over a sustained period, which Mike undoubtedly has.
Campaigns and projects
Our campaigns and projects have continued throughout the year and regular reports have appeared in Sou’Wester magazine. Brief updates on three of these are as follows:
Sedgemoor District Council and various consultants worked throughout 2022 on the submission to support the provisional award of £4m from the Government’s Towns Fund for the regeneration of Bridgwater Docks. We understand that this was eventually submitted in December and that the response from the Government is due in March. IWA’s involvement in this has been less than we would have liked and we now understand that the monies requested from the Towns Fund will not be sufficient to permit the regeneration to be achieved in full and that certain elements will therefore need to be deferred. It is also understood that Somerset Council, the new unitary authority for Somerset from 1 April 2023, will be responsible for the regeneration works and once these are completed the freehold of the Docks, but not the Bascule Bridge, will be transferred to Bridgwater Town Council.
Bridgwater and Taunton Canal – Firepool to Railway Bridge
Last summer we were notified of a consultation by Somerset West & Taunton Council (SWT) on proposals for Flood Defence Works at Firepool Lock and from there to the railway bridge at Obridge. The proposed works include the building of a flood wall between the canal and the River Tone, improvements to the towpath and certain works to the gates at Firepool Lock, which we understand have been rejected by CRT. We accordingly reviewed the proposals, obtained engineering and ecology advice from others in IWA and submitted our comments to SWT. At the time of writing we are still waiting for feedback from SWT on our comments.
River Tone – former cattle market
A planning application for the former Cattle Market alongside the River Tone was released in November, for consultation by the public. We submitted our comments within the consultation period and are aware that these are being considered along with all the other comments received. Our areas of interest included the following:
Pedestrian and Cycle links from the canal towpath through to the new development
Adequate segregation of pedestrians and cyclists, especially taking into account the likely growth of e-bikes
Access to the waterside for all, with the cycleway away from the water
Access for a crane to Firepool Lock
Car Parking for visitors to the river and canal
No shading of water by tall buildings
Access to the water for leisure activities (canoeing, etc.)
Lighting along the towpath/cycleway
Flood prevention measures
West Country Waterways Forum
The West Country Branch hosted a Waterways Forum for waterway groups in the South West peninsula on Saturday 8th October and, as previously, this took place in the Canal Room of the Globe Inn, Sampford Peverell, Devon, which is adjacent to the Grand Western Canal.
The Forum provided an opportunity for the local waterway groups to meet up, exchange information and ideas and to hear about current and proposed developments – of which there are many – on some of the local waterways. The event was attended by over 30 waterway enthusiasts, representing the Bude Canal Trust, Bude Canal & Harbour Society, Rolle Canal Society, Stover Canal Trust, Friends of Exeter Ship Canal, Friends of Grand Western Canal, Somerset Navigators Boat Club, Cocklemoor Community Trust and IWA. Special guests were Nicola Dyer of Greenwood Projects, who spoke about her project at Underhill Yard in Bristol and Cllr Brian Smedley of Bridgwater Town Council.
Overall feedback was that the Forum went well. It was particularly pleasing to see the local waterway groups networking with each other and having an opportunity to see the progress made by the groups that made presentations.
The Branch Accounts for 2022, including comparatives for 2021 and 2020, are appended to this report. Members who have questions on the accounts are invited to raise them at least three days in advance of the AGM; please contact our Treasurer, Mike Aldridge or myself via. Head Office.
South West Inland Waterways Regeneration Fund
The South West Inland Waterways Regeneration Fund (SWIWRF) was established in early 2021 with the intention of raising funds for use by IWA’s not-for-profit corporate members based in the West Country. This is a restricted fund within IWA and its primary purpose is to help facilitate the regeneration of inland waterways which, for example, include the following:
Improvements to waterside facilities for use by boaters and the community
Creation of information boards and signage along waterways
Development of slipways for the launch of trail boats and other craft
Restoration of derelict waterways and other waterway-related assets
Protection and restoration of heritage assets
Acquisition of plant and machinery for waterway related uses
As at the end of the 2022 donations to the fund amounted to £55,000 and grants made totalled £27,000, with a further two grants totalling just over £12,000 in the pipeline. One of the grants made during the year was towards new noticeboards (see below) on the Grand Western Canal which in due course will include new information panels that are currently being designed.
There is little doubt that SWIWRF is providing useful additional resources to fund the activities of our corporate members in their efforts to maintain and improve the waterways within the remit of the West Country Branch. The Fund currently stands at just under £16,000 and Branch members who wish to support the aims of the Fund through a donation are invited to contact me. All donations will be very welcome and will be put to good use.
IWA trustee and staff changes
Members will have noticed the significant number of recent changes within IWA, with Paul Rodgers resigning as Chairman, Les Etheridge being appointed as Interim Chairman and two new Trustees, Mike Wills and Charlie Norman being appointed by members at the National AGM in September. Staff changes include the appointment of a new marketing team and the appointment of Jenny Hodson as Volunteer Manager, who is splitting her time between the Regions/Branches and the Waterway Recovery Group and is already making a difference to IWA’s operations. Jenny was in Somerset last September and we took the opportunity to talk to her about the Branch and to show her Tiverton Basin on the Grand Western Canal, the Upper Parrett at Langport and Bridgwater Docks.
Britain's waterways are vital; together we can campaign for them now and for the future.
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