Stroudwater Canal hopes raised by lottery grant

May 2018 - A canal restoration abandoned by British Waterways before it became Canal & River Trust has moved a significant step forward with a Heritage Lottery Fund development grant, reports Charles Alberts.

Cotswold Canals Trust and Stroud District Council picked up the baton after the old British Waterways dropped the restoration and it has become a £23.4 million project to connect Stroud and Stonehouse to the nation’s inland waterway network at Saul Junction.

The target date is 2024 and those behind the scheme have been given hope with crucial initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) which paves the way for the restoration of the derelict canal between Stonehouse and Saul junction.​

The has given development funding of £842,000 which will be used to make sure everything is in place before applying for a further £9million of HLF money which will allow the whole project to go ahead.

The stretch between Stroud and Stonehouse is almost restored and bringing the remaining four miles back in to use will link it to the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and the rest of the country.

The Trust and the council say that will attract huge tourism benefits, create 30 hectares of biodiverse habitat and canal towpath, conserve and digitise archive material charting the canal’s history, and attract more than £100million-worth of new private investment within five years of the end of the project.

If the HLF had not chosen the project, it would have been set back by at least a decade.
“That we have secured development funding is absolutely brilliant news,” said Stroud District Council leader Doina Cornell.

“We knew that the bid was very strong but this is a huge relief and it means that working with partners, we can drive the project on and look forward to making Stroud and Stonehouse canal towns once again.”

The project aims to take the canal under the M5 motorway, reinstate the ‘missing mile’ of canal near Eastington and forge a new stretch of canal under the Gloucester – Bristol railway line at Stonehouse.

The council-led restoration between Stonehouse and Thrupp has transformed the canal corridor, attracting £115million of private investment.

Studies suggest that boaters and visitors to a restored canal would spend more than £5million a year in the Stroud district.

Stroud District Council has committed £3million, and contributions from Gloucestershire County Council, Cotswold Canals Trust and the Canal and River Trust are worth around £2million.

The total cost of the project, allowing for inflation and other contingencies is £23.4million. The monetised health benefits of the canal will be worth more than £37million a year.

Cotswold Canals Trust chairman Jim White said: “The Stroud Valleys will become a new, must go to, destination on the national canal network, bringing growth to local businesses through tourism, by increasing the canal and towpath use for recreation.”

The canal’s history dates back to 1730. It opened in 1779 and joined with the Thames and Severn Canal 10 years later, which established a largely inland waterway link between Bristol and London.

It was abandoned in 1954 but the founding of the Stroudwater Canal Society in 1972 led to the formation of the Cotswold Canals Trust.

The Stroudwater Navigation links with the Thames and Severn Canal at Wallbridge and so far the stretch of that canal between Wallbridge and Bowbridge has been restored.

Under the leadership of Stroud District Council since 2009, the project has seen restoration of 4.5 miles of canal, nine locks, and six miles of towpath so far.

Photos: (1st) One section of the canal now restored at Ebley Bridge, (2nd) The line of the canal between Saul Junction and Stroud.

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