Volunteers from two charities, the local Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust, and the country-wide Inland Waterways Association, are celebrating after SMDC’s Planning Applications Committee turned down proposals for a development which would have blocked restoration of the Uttoxeter Canal in the Churnet Valley.
The first lock and basin of the canal at Froghall were restored in 2005 in a partnership project between volunteers, British Waterways and local authorities, backed by European funding. The site proposed for development is immediately adjacent to this popular location, which is always busy with visiting boaters, tourists and walkers. With no route allowed in the plans for future restoration of the canal, the development would have prevented the rest of the Uttoxeter Canal from ever joining on to the navigable Caldon Canal and 2700 miles of inland waterways.
The development proposal was for 48 new houses and restoration of a Listed farmhouse, partially on a greenfield site which has not been allocated for housing in the Local Plan. Both the Local Plan and its associated Churnet Valley Masterplan specifically state that any development should not prejudice potential reinstatement of the route of the Uttoxeter Canal, with a strip of land allocated for the future restoration of the canal along with a route for walking, cycling and horse riding.
The Planning Applications Committee were unanimous in refusing the application, for a wide range of reasons including: the application not meeting the aspirations for mixed use of the site; flood and transport concerns; the integrity of the adjacent Caldon Canal embankment; the appropriateness of the design of the houses for a rural location; and the harm to the future restoration of the Uttoxeter Canal.
A study commissioned by the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust in 2009 concluded that it would be feasible to restore the Uttoxeter Canal between Froghall and Denstone, which would open up more of the Churnet Valley for recreation. Since then, a number of volunteer-led projects have been completed further down the valley, including several in partnership with SMDC and others as part of the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership.
Over 300 objections were submitted to the application, with many wanting to protect the line of the canal and see it restored. The decision by the Planning Committee means that in the future the Churnet Valley will be able to realise the benefits that waterway restoration can bring to a local area. These are well documented and include improved health and recreation opportunities for communities, and financial benefits to local economies through tourism, employment and regeneration, according to The Inland Waterways Association.
The two waterway charities have been campaigning about the impact the development would have on the canal restoration since the planning application was first placed 7 months ago, and were overwhelmed by the support from local communities plus boaters and people from across the country. Well known canal supporters Sir David and Lady Sheila Suchet lent their voices to the campaign, and in their roles as Vice Presidents of national charity The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) will be delighted to share the news far and wide. Alison Smedley MBE, Deputy Chair of IWA’s North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch, said, “The Planning Applications Committee’s recognition of the importance of safeguarding a route to reinstate the Uttoxeter Canal, and acknowledging the many opportunities to use it as part of green infrastructure plans, well-being and tourism, is another milestone in the progress of this waterway restoration.”
Rupert Smedley, who spoke on behalf of the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust at the Planning Applications Committee meeting, said “We are so relieved. There is no other viable route available for the canal – the alternatives put forward by the developer simply don’t stack up. We don’t object to the site being developed as allocated in the Local Plan, provided the development allows for the future restoration of the Uttoxeter Canal and also doesn’t undermine the stability of the Caldon Canal embankment and its retaining wall.”
Julie Arnold, a vice chairman of the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals, said “An opportunity exists for the developers to embrace the canal and benefit from it throughout the former Boltons Copperworks site. Examples exist across the country and within Staffordshire where developers have done just this, such as in Lichfield, and we remain very willing to meet with the developers to discuss alternative plans for the site that would allow for the future restoration of the canal”.
Anyone wishing to learn more about the history and restoration of the Uttoxeter Canal is encouraged to attend the open day being held by Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust and IWA North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Branch at Crumpwood on Saturday 18th September, as part of the Heritage Open Days events, details available here.