Bid to sell canal pumphouse hits protests

January 2018 - A tiny laminated notice posted near a key heritage building in one of the less frequented parts of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, just as the Christmas break began could easily have passed without notice and boaters and canal enthusiasts would subsequently have been left wondering why Canal & River Trust no longer owned Blowers Green Pumphouse, as Peter Underwood reports.

The notice was a formal announcement that C&RT, as a Trustee of the Waterways Infrastructure Trust, was proposing to sell the freehold of the historic pumphouse and anyone with objections has just one month to put them in writing. It was first spotted with just a few days of the notice period left to run.

As one member of the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society put it: “I can't help feeling C&RT have been a bit sneaky about this.”

As it is the National Association of Boat Owners have leapt into action with a formal objection letter to C&RT's Estates Department in Birmingham from NABO chair Stella Ridgeway.

The letter says: “The Blowers Green Pumphouse, a listed building (ref SMR 7297), is an important part of the heritage of the canals, having being built in the early 1890s to house a recirculating pump to raise the water levels between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. It is exactly the type of building that meets the Canal and River Trust’s charitable objects, which state: '2.2 To protect and conserve for public benefit sites, objects and buildings of archaeological, architectural, engineering or historic interest on, in the vicinity, or otherwise associated with inland waterways.'

“CRT, as the freehold owner, is obliged under the above charitable objects and as custodian of the waterways’ heritage, to make sure that it retains heritage aspects under any planning applications. It is also desirable that CRT retains suitable use under the Historic England/Government National Planning Policy Framework for Locally Listed Buildings. Specifically: 'In deciding any relevant planning permission that affects a locally listed heritage asset or its setting, the NPPF requires, among other things, that local planning authorities should take into account the desirability of sustaining and enhancing the significance of such heritage assets and of putting them to viable uses consistent with their conservation'.

Nabo goes on to point out: “Should the freehold be sold, CRT will be powerless to preserve this building for public benefit.
“The pumphouse currently provides services to boaters and is on a popular route out of the city, down Delph Locks to the Staffs and Worcs Canal, which is a particularly interesting route for boaters who are interested in industrial heritage.

“The pumphouse is also at the end of Dudley No 2 Canal, which leads to the Black Country Museum. Over recent years, CRT has sold many historic wharves and buildings that were previously part of the industrial heritage of both the canals and the country.

“These continual sales will harm the attractiveness of the canals to the new visitors that CRT is seeking to attract. The National Association of Boat Owners (NABO) believes that this will harm CRT’s case when negotiating with the Government for future funding.
“NABO asks, on behalf of our members, that you reconsider this freehold disposal. NABO also requests that every effort is made to preserve the industrial heritage that CRT has inherited and resist efforts to sell off important properties such as this.”

Another NABO supporter Alison Tuck urged supporters on Facebook to join the protest, saying: “This is our canal heritage and why they want to part with it is beyond me!! It has a tenant so is generating income. It also has boater facilities which could be lost.

“We only have until the 20 January. NABO has sent and objection on behalf of it members but the more who write the better.

The building is currently leased to Dudley Canal Trust and occupied by Green Team Dudley, a charity providing training and services for disabled people and Acorn Performing Arts, a theatre and dance school.

Dudley Canal Trust's Alan Hazeldine, a Trustee, told The Floater: "Dudley Canal Trust currently leases the Pumphouse from C&RT and has been notified of their intention to dispose of the property.

"They have said that they intend to retain the Service Block part of the building for boaters.

"My understanding is they wish to place the building for sale at auction and we are unaware of any parties interest in purchasing the freehold."

The Floater has asked C&RT what is going on. Nothing has so far been received.

Photos: (1st) Blowers Green Pumphouse - built in the early 1890s to house a recirculating pump to raise the water levels between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, (2nd) The laminated notice - apparently the only mention of C&RT's intention to sell.

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