Can Bolton get back it's town centre canal?

July 2017 - Plans for a multi-million pound development in Bolton have brought the founder of the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal Society into conflict with its current chair – as Peter Underwood reports.

Steven Parker, who founded the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Society in 1987, says that plans to regenerate Church Wharf could be fatal to his dream of seeing the canal restored to its former glory, putting an end to any hopes of bringing a canal back to Bolton town centre.

However, Paul Hindle, the current chairman of the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal Society, is reported in the Bolton News saying that restoring the canal to the town centre would require ‘something very drastic and very expensive’.

He told the newspaper: “ I think the chance to bring back the canal disappeared in the 1960s. There simply isn’t enough room to put it back.

“It would take something very drastic and very expensive to bring the canal back to Bolton town centre.

“I think the chances are pretty remote. When we talk about restoration now, the assumption is that it would end at Little Lever rather than going all the way to the town centre.

“It was something that was talked about 10 to 15 years ago, but there are a lot of problems associated with trying to bring it back — there are three aqueducts missing.

“Bolton has always been the council that seems most keen to bring the canal back, but unfortunately it is the area where it is most problematic to do it.”

The canal which linked Salford and the River Irwell with the northern industrial towns of Bolton and Bury using a Y-shaped route with the mill towns on the tips of the Y.

In Bolton ended at Church Wharf, below Bolton Parish Church, but disappeared when the A666 road was built over it in the 1960s.

Steven Parker argues that any new building work should factor in the possibility returning the canal to the town centre and told The Floater: “It's a shame that the canal society I founded 30 years ago no longer feels it is important to protect the line of the canal; especially as that was the primary reason for it being set up in the first place.

“The current chairman of the canal society, Dr Hindle, is wrong, and clearly not doing enough to protect the canal.”

There is a long history of dispute between Steven and the canal society he founded. In 1999 he was expelled from the Society he founded in 11 years earlier after he produced a report that he claims showed the committee to be 'incompetent and wasting members money'. He adds: “Thirty years later I still care deeply about the canal and will do everything in my power to protect it and ultimately restore it for navigation and leisure pursuits.”

Steven believes it is quite feasible to restore the canal and always has been, but says development of the land at Church Wharf could mean the canal will never return to the town centre. “It will kill any realistic possibility of it ever happening,” he said.

Steven has contacted national groups to make them aware of this threat to the future restoration of the canal back into Bolton Town Centre, including the Inland Waterways Association, Waterway Recovery Group, the local planning office and local history groups.

He says: “It would be interesting to get a response from Bolton Council, Planning officers and local councillors to see if they would amend their plans to incorporate a protected route for a future canal and wharf.

“Indeed, the focal point of the Church Wharf redevelopment should be a waterside development incorporating a restored canal.

The Bolton News online edition ran a reader's pole and 89 per cent of readers wanted the canal to return to Bolton Town Centre.

Steven says: “We need to convince local councillors and planning officers that the canal should be a focal point of a waterside development at Church Wharf. If enough people contacted their local councillor and planning department the council might amend their plans and incorporate a protected route for a future canal.

Despite the attitude of the chair Steven still hopes the committee of the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal Society (MBBCS) will get on board to protect all of the former Bolton Branch to Church Wharf and work towards it's eventual restoration.

He says: “The in-filled section between Fogg Lane Aqueduct to Smithy Bridge at Darcy Lever would be relatively easy to restore for local boating, fishing and leisure pursuits. A slipway could allow visiting trail boats to navigate these presently isolated sections.

“If the nearby canal breach could be restored the Bolton, Bury and Salford arms could be reconnected via the restored locks. This would open up an isolated but substantial length of canal for boating, fishing and leisure pursuits.”

A short stretch of the MBBC, including some locks, has been recently restored where the canal leaves the River Irwell in Salford.

Steven's vision for the Bolton end is all-encompassing: He says: “A trip boat service could operate from the reconstructed canal company visitor centre and slipways would allow visiting trail boats to be launched into the canal. Nob End would become a regional visitor attraction creating much needed jobs and improving the environment.”

“Nob End is the jewel in the crown of the MBBC. Just need to secure funds to repair the breach and restore the locks for navigation. A waterside development at Church Wharf should be incorporated into this scheme. This could act as a catalyst to restore other parts of the in-filled Bolton Branch.”

Photos: (1st) The Bolton and Bury Railway line crossing the canal, (2nd) Nob End in working days - Steven says it is the jewel in the crown of the canal, (3rd) Scotson Fold Bridge, (4th) Working boat on the MBBC, (5th) A MBBC lock in working days, (6th) Steven Parker, who founded the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Society in 1987.

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