As reported recently, a planning application has recently been submitted for land directly south of the basin at the start of the Uttoxeter Canal in Froghall. This application puts 48 new houses between the basin and nearby A52 (note not 49 as previously reported, the 49th property is the refurbished listed farmhouse.) This development would block the historic line of the canal, destroy physical remains of the canal both on the surface and underground, and does not provide space for an alternative alignment. This application directly contravenes both adopted planning policy documents for this area, the Churnet Valley Masterplan and Staffordshire Moorlands Local Plan, which reserve the line of the canal for a potential restoration, and in the shorter term for the safe walking route from the canal basin to the A52 which the Trust has lobbied for since 2005.
We have now had time to read the application in more detail. The significance of the Uttoxeter Canal and the opportunity for restoration is played down throughout the application. In the heritage statement it is described as a "non-designated heritage asset - has (as yet unproven) archaeological value" which came as something of a surprise to the Trust not least as Historic England record the canal as a monument, but also because detailed maps recording the line of the canal from Froghall to Uttoxeter were supplied to Staffordshire County Council, at their request, specifically for the purpose of updating the Historic Environment Record around a decade ago.
Over £700,000 has already been granted by various bodies towards restoring the canal, most of this being spent in Froghall itself reopening the first lock and basin directly adjacent to the present application site. The heritage statement of the present application comments that "While there is no remaining surface evidence of the old canal, the area has been purposely left largely undeveloped in order to retain vistas across the site" which might more accurately be restated as "It is proposed to flatten at section of canal which shows at surface level, eliminate the site of lock 3 and lay a road down the line of the canal." The only section of the application area that is not redeveloped in these proposals is Lock 2, which it is impossible to build on because of the topography of that part of the site.
The application plays down the opportunity to restore the canal, doing a huge disservice to volunteers who have contributed huge amounts of time working on the canal since 2003. The Trust estimates that around 32,000 hours of volunteer labour have so far been contributed to our long term vision to restore the canal. We do not flinch from saying this is a long term aspiration. Volunteer-led projects of this size and complexity often take many years to deliver. There are examples across the country of ultimately successful canal restorations which have taken decades to complete. Many have had more complex engineering challenges than the Uttoxeter Canal, which while it was one of the earliest canal closures, in 1849, was largely abandoned rather than being built upon as far as Denstone, other than in the village centres. The 2009 restoration feasibility study confirmed that there were no insurmountable problems to reinstating the canal, largely along its original line between Froghall and Denstone. A new line for the canal would be needed from here to Uttoxeter, which whilst not technically complex should not be tackled until the restoration of the first half of the canal nears completion.
The application states that "a future restoration is unlikely to be viable within the site layout proposed." For absolute clarity, restoration is not made "unlikely" by this application, it permanently ends any opportunity to reinstate the Uttoxeter Canal. The only link to the outside canal network is through this site and without the potential of an eventual a connection to the national waterways network the restoration is not fundable. It is also extremely unlikely that the Trust could attract the number of volunteers from the national waterways restoration community that have so strongly supported the project over many years.
The Trust strongly encourages all who are interested in the restoration of the Uttoxeter Canal, or indeed any of the related footpath and environmental improvements which have been undertaken or are proposed, to look at the planning application, SMD/2020/0684 and related listed building consent, SMD/2020/0685, and to respond to these. The Trust will be opposing the application in its own comprehensive response in due course and a significant number of early responses supporting our view would be incredibly helpful. Our ideal outcome would be that this application is withdrawn before the closing date and resubmitted in a form which does not block the line of the canal. This essentially means only building on the land designated for housing in the local plan, and we would have no objection to this. Responses need to be submitted via the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council website by 17th March.