Transport Secretary Grayling puts new waterway at risk

May 2018 - The Government's approval of a new road has put plans for a new broad waterway, linking Bedford and Milton Keynes in serious jeopardy and the Trust promoting the route is asking boaters to lobby their MPs to persuade the Secretary of State for Transport not to blight the route, as Peter Underwood reports.

Bedford Milton Keynes Waterway is already well behind target, with work originally planned to start just as the recession hit and now the government's refusal to include a culvert for the canal in plans to upgrade the A421 from Milton Keynes to the M1 may mean it will never be built, despite lobbying and direct pleas from senior Canal & River Trust managers.

The Bedford Milton Keynes Waterway Trust says: “We are very concerned that the long-term future of the proposed 26km Waterway Park linking the River Great Ouse in Bedford with the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes is under serious threat.

“To put in a culvert once the road has been built will be very difficult. It will be a extremely more expensive and once again disrupt this major road leading into Milton Keynes. We believe this seriously threatens the future feasibility of the Waterway Park.”

The Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust has been in discussion with the two Local Authorities involved in the scheme, Milton Keynes Council and Central Bedfordshire Council, for well over two years to ensure that the Waterway route, which is protected in three Local Plans, is not blocked when the A 421 is upgraded.

Planning permission for a culvert has been granted, it is just not included in the Department of Transport's road scheme and the Tory minister is refusing to give any ground, simply setting impossible targets and apparently willing to see the long awaited link between the Grand Union Canal and the rivers of eastern England permanently blighted.

The Trust says: “The only way forward we have been offered is to fund the culvert ourselves. We have been asked to find £150,000 for design work by 1st May 2018 and over £3m for construction of a culvert by September 2018 – this is an impossible task.

“The Trust has been promoting the Waterway Park since 1995. We believe it will be a great asset for the area, providing green space and water to be enjoyed by everyone, generating revenue and jobs through place-making, leisure and tourism. We believe it should be an essential part of the infrastructure in the Oxford/Milton Keynes/Cambridge Corridor.”

One obvious lobbyist on behalf of the scheme is the Canal & River Trust and it has been lobbying government to change the decision.

A C&RT spokesperson said: “Historically our planners worked very hard to ensure that a culvert was included as part of the planning permission for the A421 project, and the Trust’s position remains the same.

“In April Richard Parry wrote to the A421 Project Board to express the Trust’s support for the Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway Trust’s request that the Project Board reconsider the provision of a culvert for the Waterway within the A421 upgrade scheme, subject to funding becoming available. He also confirmed the Canal & River Trust’s ongoing support for the Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway link.

“Peter Walker (our Head of Technical Support) and Sam Anderson-Brown (our restoration manager) have been working with B&MKW Trust and Peter has given advice on dealing with Highways England as well as speaking to several of his contacts there. We are also speaking to them about grants they may be able to apply for to raise funds to allow for the culvert to be included in the designs.”

The B&MK Waterway Trust is pleading for boaters and local councils as well as other partners to help fight for:

• Recognition that the B&MK Waterway should be endorsed as part of the infrastructure planned for the Oxford/Cambridge corridor (and therefore properly funded)

• Support from partners to secure funding for the culvert to ensure the A421 upgrade fully meets local plan policy, as other projects have been required to do.

• Help from partners and other agencies in building a strong business case for the Waterway Park and bidding for available funds

• A more realistic timescale so that a way forward is achievable

• Wide ranging support to raise short term funding for the design fees for the A421 culvert.

It is asking everyone involved to write to their MP about and to ask him or her to write to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, to ask for full support for the provision of a crossing to be included in the A421 scheme and to write to the Leaders of Central Bedfordshire & Milton Keynes Councils and ask them to rethink their decision to omit the culvert.

It remains to be seen whether short-sighted, misguided penny pinching by Government results in the destruction of long-cherished ambitions to create a highly desirable link between two key waterways.

The destruction of the Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal by building the M6 without any consideration for canal crossings is an inevitable comparison.

Photos: (1st) The Grand Union at Milton Keynes where the new link would begin, (2nd) The route of the proposed link between the Grand Union and the Great Ouse.

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