The Following Article has been submitted to  "The Shroppie Fly". "Towpath Talk", "The Whitchurch Herald", "The Shropshire Star" and "Waterways World" and provides a comprehensive update on the work of the Trust including the recent Dredging and the "Whitchurch Gateway".

The Whitchurch Gateway

The first phase of the proposed Whitchurch Gateway Scheme at Chemistry is nearing completion. It won’t have escaped the attention of the hundreds of folk that use the Canal Arm into Whitchurch regularly that contractors have been carrying out considerable dredging and consolidation works on the waterway link to the town centre.

 

The Whitchurch Arm of the Shropshire Union Canal, more properly known as the Ellesmere Branch, is owned and maintained by The Whitchurch Waterway Trust, and is unusual in that unlike most of the UK Inland Waterways, which are maintained and funded by the Canal and River Trust, this waterway is totally reliant on the efforts of the volunteers and members that make up the Trust, and receives no regular funding from any source.

The Trust was formed in 1988 in response to plans by the Town Council to re establish the canal back in the town centre. Whilst the original extension into the town was opened in 1808, funded entirely by local businessmen who could see the benefits of being connected to the whole canal system, by 1939 it had fallen into disuse and was abandoned in 1944.

Fast forward to the 1980’s and we find that a feasibility study was commissioned by the Council to look at the benefits a renovated canal would bring to the town. All the signs were positive and work progressed to re establish the Arm initially over a length of 1.2 kilometres. The Trust was formed, grants were obtained to fund the scheme and 1993 saw the first boats on the Arm for nearly fifty years.

Whilst the Arm proves to be a popular overnight stay for boaters it has always been the ambition of the Trust to restore the canal as close as possible to the town centre.

In 2012 the Trust revealed plans to extend the canal under Chemistry and Meadowcroft Bridges and to create a basin and moorings closer to the town centre. The Trust continues to seek funding for this work but in the interim the decision was taken in 2018 to upgrade the existing waterway, with the creation of a "Whitchurch Gateway" through the bridges.

WWT chair Chris Chambers commented

'The work we are doing at the moment is actually what you might call "essential maintenance" as well as upgrading. We have dredged out the moorings to give boaters a better and safer environment and cleared and reinforced the offside bank. Over the years the bank has become eroded and reduced the navigable width. We are now back to somewhere near the original width and depth. It is essential that we make an overnight stay in Whitchurch as welcoming and secure as possible, which is what we are doing, but our real aim is to get the canal back as close to the town centre as possible, beyond the proposed basin and to the foot of the old gas works site.

It really is frustrating to see so many boats glancing up the arm and deciding to carry on up to Ellesmere and beyond, having already made a decision that a walk up to the town was a bit too far.

The Ellesmere or Llangollen Canal as it is widely known, is one of the busiest in the country and it is estimated that there over 16,000 boat movements a year on the canal at the New Mills lift bridge on the end of the arm. Surveys have been carried out and whilst several hundred boats and holiday makers do decide to moor up and stay on the arm, it is clear that the Town is missing out.

Of course I am biased, but there is a great opportunity for the town of Whitchurch to take control and have some influence on the future of the community and importantly the retail core, by supporting what we doing.

The work we are doing now, which has cost tens of thousands of pounds, is being financed entirely from our own funds put aside over several years for maintenance and is an indication of our commitment to the town. The next phase will be focussed on improving the footpath, enjoyed by walkers, cyclists, joggers, dogs and of course boaters, and we are grateful to the Town Council for their financial support for this particular aspect of the scheme. We are few in numbers but really committed to the prosperity of the town and given some of the more recent planning proposals it is doubly important that we achieve our aims. Whitchurch is a unique market town with a very special mix of hospitality and small local retailing. The canal will continue to underpin and help the prosperity of the community but we need the support of that community to achieve our aspirations.'

Chris Chambers, Chair The Whitchurch Waterway Trust

The annual Whitchurch Canal Festival takes place on the Arm and this year’s event will be on the weekend 31August/1st September.

Over the last week over 200 tons of material has been removed from the canal bed and replaced behind new environmentally friendly bank protection, thus re establishing a 26 foot navigable channel with an average depth of around 1.4 metres. Work is expected to start on the Chemistry Gateway and footpath upgrade in the next few weeks, in time for the Canal Festival.