We understand that this is a massive project – it’s the longest length of waterway needing to be restored of any of the many waterway restoration projects in England, Wales and Scotland. We know that much of the projected through route is the historic line through the Oxfordshire and Wiltshire countryside. Many of the bases of the locks are still in place and the evidence of the last 30 years shows that these are capable of being re-built. We also know that there are many more places where farmers need to cross the canal, and with heavier vehicles than the horses and carts of the time when the canals were first built. Some of the old bridges are capable of being re-built – perhaps only for pedestrian and livestock crossings – and new bridges will be needed for modern farm machinery.
We intend that the new WWRT will attract support from local volunteers who want to do physical work that will last. The WWRT intends to identify and prepare projects – with a preference for structures – where its volunteers can contribute and see real results.
We recognise that a waterway restoration brings benefits to the public and chose to form as a charity from day one. If we had not satisfied the Charity Commission that we would be and would operate as a charity – i.e. focussed on delivering specified objectives for the benefit of the public – the WWRT would not have come into existence. In the short term there will be incidental benefits to the public, such as opportunities for local volunteers to develop skills, places where re-watered sections of the canal contribute to land drainage and the attenuation of storm water flows (i.e. reduced risk of flooding), and where landowners are willing, sections of towpath open for leisure walking.
The big public benefits of waterway restoration come about from the completed waterway – the economic activity, particularly in rural areas, that comes from boating and allied activities. The boat traffic is what keeps the water channel alive, the waterway maintenance necessary for boating includes the dredging that stops the channel silting up and the towpath maintenance for access on foot. The necessity of maintaining water levels sufficient to float boats ensures that the water channel is properly maintained. A canal is a man-made feature – if not cared for properly it will become overgrown and shallow – as was the fate of most of the two canals following legal abandonment something over 100 years ago.
We believe that the two restored waterways will be sustainable and will deliver a variety of benefits to the public. We are sure that there will be boat traffic – and revenue associated with boat licences, mooring fees, and visitor spend. The challenge is in getting from where the project is right now to the point where the two waterways are re-opened. It might appear impossible, but as Nelson Mandela is reported to have said, things often appear impossible until they are done.