Tag: barge

How not to promote a canal

Can you see the sign pointing to the canal?With all the fuss in Swindon over the possible reintroduction of a canal, Wiltshire’s county town provides a good example of how not get the best value from a canal.

Trowbridge has very little to offer any passing tourists, so you might think that they’d make the most of what little they have. You’d be wrong. Access to the Kennet & Avon Canal is down a poorly signposted — just one tiny sign in the whole town — footpath through the appropriately named Canal Road Industrial Estate, about a mile from the town centre. Hardly the most attractive route to what is probably Trowbridge’s best tourist asset, and that one sign is at the entrance to the industrial estate. An alternative point of access to the canal, Hilperton Marina on the outskirts of the town, barely gets a mention either.

All the other towns along the route of the Kennet & Avon Canal seem to have benefited from its presence; Trowbridge, though admittedly with less to gain, has apparently chosen to miss out.

The wet approach to traffic management

I’ve heard a slightly different explanation from any given so far of why Swindon Borough Council wants to build a canal along its chosen route. The explanation came from one of the canal trust’s officers.

One of the features of Swindon’s traffic highlighted in the council’s Central Area Action Plan is the high proportion of traffic that passes through the town centre. The plan aims to reduce this, so that most of the traffic left is actually going to or from the town centre rather than just passing through. The aforementioned canal trust officer said the reason the council wants to build a canal down Faringdon Road and Fleet Street is as part of that traffic management scheme. So the potential traffic congestion that our recently elected councillor was complaining of in his election campaign would be intentional rather than an unwanted side-effect.

I’m not sure how good the canal trust officer’s information source is, but it’s certainly a slightly different slant on the possible benefits of a new canal.

Update, Tuesday, 13 May: To clarify, the canal trust officer’s view was that the main reason for building the canal down Faringdon Road was for it’s traffic management effects rather than because, as the council have said, that would be the best place in terms of its civic amenity and tourist attraction value.

Spinning the canal

Even when doing little more than regurgitating a press release, the Adver cannot resist applying a positive gloss in support of the proposals to re-introduce a canal to Swindon.

Canal would give town a big boost

THE plan to build a canal through the centre of Swindon has been given the thumbs up by a business expert. Paul Briggs, chief executive of the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce Group, has said that a canal could provide a big boost to the town. He welcomed the project as a key element in transforming Swindon’s town centre into a leisure and visitor attraction, disposing of its dreary reputation.

Only one of those sentences is true: that Mr Briggs of the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce said that the canal could provide a big boost to the town. Could. Not ‘would’ only ‘could’. The article then goes on to reproduce almost the entirety of the chamber’s press release, leaving out only the first paragraph. I’ll repeat that paragraph here, as it makes clear what Mr Briggs was supporting.

The Swindon Chamber of Commerce has welcomed proposals to debate the redevelopment of Swindon’s town centre through the creation of a focal waterway. The plans hope to attract people to Swindon by transforming the town centre into a leisure and visitor attraction, disposing of what some believe to be a dreary reputation.

That’s only a ‘thumbs up’ to debating the plans. It is a long way short of supporting the plans themselves. As the rest of the press release made clear, whilst he is clearly not an opponent of the plans*, there are many questions still to be answered.

* Anyone who thinks the impact of the canal could match that of the coming of the railway 100 years ago obviously has their rose-tinted spectacles on: the canal has already been and gone once, with limited impact; the impression left on Swindon by the GWR remains unavoidable.

The eternal optimist

I see that Mr Cartwright from the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust is, once again, demonstrating his contempt for the people of Swindon, brushing aside any concerns that are expressed. In response to an Adver survey showing over 63% of a sample of 1000 people were against the proposals to reintroduce a canal to central Swindon, Mr Cartwright takes the ‘glass one third full’ approach.

It still means that a third of people support it. A lot of people’s response is probably because there has been a lot of negativity in the newspapers about the canal. Then when you ask people a yes or no question like this they immediately think of all the negative aspects – it’ll cause traffic problems, it’ll cost me lots of money. I think we need to get across to people that the canal will not cost them anything and that the traffic problems in the centre have to be solved with or without the canal.

His “it won’t cost a thing” argument is getting monotonous now. It may not appear in the council tax, but ultimately, whether it be by companies re-developing central Swindon passing a levy onto the people, or central government taxation, we will end up paying the £52M that the canal will cost. Let’s also not forget that the £52M price tag does not include the costs of buying land nor of works to relieve traffic congestion resulting from the canal.

Speaking of which, Mr Cartwright’s comments about traffic congestion suggest that he has not read the report that his own organisation and Swindon Borough Council commissioned.

To conclude; this initial modelling work indicates that closing Westcott Place and Faringdon Road to general traffic would have some negative traffic impacts, including increases in traffic delay, increased journey lengths (due to detours), and possibly the loss of some on-street parking. However, the modelling shows that other areas of the network will experience reductions in traffic/congestion, and hence, overall the network would not reach capacity and therefore could accommodate the closure of Westcott Place and Faringdon Road. However, other potential future year changes may also add to congestion in the Borough, which may result in unacceptable delays.

That’s not the benign outcome that Mr Cartwright is trying to portray, but a statement that building a canal will bring forward the time when Swindon’s streets reach gridlock.

If Mr Cartwright wishes to gain the support of the people of Swindon for his plans, he needs to address their concerns, not dismiss them.

Making it up as he paddles along

Some organisations make odd choices for the people they put forward as their public representatives. Take the Swindon branch of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust for example. Rather than putting forward someone with a robust knowledge of both the canal’s history and the current proposals for its reinstatement, they instead put forward their chairman, Mr Cartwright, whose knowledge of both seems to be distinctly lacking. Consider his comments on the canal history.

From an historical point of view the reason the canal was closed was because of its threat to health.

Err… no. After it closed, the canal was filled-in by the council on health grounds, but reason it closed was because it was a commercial failure, only making money for a short time during the construction of the railway and railway works in Swindon. Despite that short period of profit, neither its original promoters, nor its subsequent owners, recovered the money they invested. But enough history, what about today?

There is no £50m, so if the canal is not built the money will not be available to anywhere else. The regeneration of Swindon has been priced and the canal would add two pence in the pound to the cost.

Again, incorrect. If the canal plans were not there, the council could choose to levy a charge on developers to support other improvements in the town centre. As to the significance of the cost, Mr Cartwright should have a read of the implementation section of Swindon’s Central Area Action Plan. That identifies the cost to the council of developments in the town centre as £145m. That makes the cost of the canal thirty four pence in the pound, rather more than the two pence that Mr Cartwright suggests. Even adding in the boroughwide costs of the town centre redevelopment only brings the proportion down to fourteen pence in the pound.

If even its most ardent enthusiasts cannot make a coherent argument in support of reinstating the canal, is it in any wonder that so many in Swindon remain sceptical?


the Bluh ZoneMr Bluh, in his obsession to bring a canal back into the town centre, is reaching the point of delusion.

It could make Swindon a destination of choice.

Really? That’s like suggesting that having a violin playing a few chords in a pop song makes it classical orchestral music. Also, I don’t recall many reports recently of Woking being inundated with tourists visiting the canal that runs through its town centre.

The green corridor would be a popular attraction, not just for tourists but the residents of Swindon as well.

The canal walk that runs along the old canal route from Kingshill to the town centre is already fairly green and certainly comparable to what the council’s central area action plan proposes for the green spine in terms of the amount of vegetation. I haven’t noticed many tourists there.

It’s about looking at the vision and seeing the issues involved, then seeing if it’s sensible to fulfil the vision.

It should also be about ensuring that the fog of exuberant enthusiasm doesn’t obscure reality.

It’s nice to have a leader with a vision for Swindon, but in believing, as he seems to, that of itself a canal will turn Swindon into a tourist attraction, Mr Bluh is forsaking vision for fantasy.


I’ll say more on this when Halcrow’s report has been made public, but for the moment I have two observations on the plans to bring a canal back into Swindon that were presented to yesterday’s meeting of Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet.

  1. Nobody but the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust and the cabinet of Swindon Borough Council have so far seen the Halcrow report: it has been kept secret and we’re having to trust our local politicians. To me it looks like they’ve something to hide.
  2. To say, as they do, that

    Of the hundreds of people who came in, only three were against the canal. One was drunk, the second one just opened the door and shouted obscenities and the third person spoke to us for an hour before coming back the next day wanting to know more.

    is a blatant lie. In my one visit to the Canal Trust’s Regent Circus premises, there were more opponents to the plans that came in than that. Admittedly, they were outnumbered by those in favour, but there were more than three in just one hour.

I like the idea of a canal being re-introduced to Swindon, but I want it to be done on the basis of honest and open discussion, not through secrecy and lies.

A future from the past

I went along to the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust’s new information centre in Regent Circus today, where, amongst other things, they are promoting their hopes and the council’s plans for a canal through Swindon town centre. Whilst, not surprisingly, some of the volunteers there were very knowledgeable about the canal proposals, what was rather alarming was how poorly informed they were about the Council’s plans that would support their aspirations — the Central Area Action Plan. Alarming, because it is the developer contributions from the central area development which Swindon Borough Council says will pay for the canal, and because the plan says quite a lot about the canal and some of it contradicts what those from the Canal Trust are saying. But then, some of what they were saying is well into the realms of fantastic optimism over realism — trams and mass pedestrianisation in Swindon? I don’t think so! (Further pedestrianisation has already discounted in an earlier draft of the plan).

I’ve also adjusted the level of concern I would feel if I lived in Erin Court or Shire Court from ‘a little worried’ to quite worried. The new draft of the Central Area Action Plan incorporates a Gateway at Kingshill.

The Gateway at Kingshill
The buildings in the Shire and Erin Court area are visually poor. This area is, however, effectively a gateway into Central Swindon and as such is identified as redevelopment opportunity area on the Proposals Map.
The redevelopment of this area would remove the potential need for an awkward ‘S bend’ and would allow for the canal to be designed along a straighter alignment. The final alignment of the canal route through this area would be detailed at the design stage of the Shire and Erin Court redevelopment.

That sounds to me like compulsory purchase and demolition on its way. No other properties seem to be so clearly identified in the plan for long-term planning blight as these are.

I also see that the ghosts last sighted outside the Falcon pub have now appeared in the action plan outside the old GWR hospital, with one of them wearing a Brunelesque top hat. So much for this being ‘forward planning’….

New life for the Falcon?

If I owned one of the flats in Erin Court or Shire Court I would be a little worried. An artist’s impression shown in The Adver on Friday give a slightly better idea as to the intended route of the canal into Swindon. It will clearly cross Kingshill Road and, following the original line of the canal, pass between Erin Court and Shire Court, before turning sharp left, through the site of what is currently a car valeting and secondhand car sales forecourt, then sharp right into Westcott Place. The flats in the two courts are built very close to the line of the old canal: they would have water lapping right below their windows. In addition, somewhere in this short length of canal a lock must be fitted in too, as Westcott Place is below the level of the old canal route.

Still, if the artist is to be believed the Falcon Inn could be the first in a new generation of canal side pubs in Swindon (for ghosts, by the look it). I’m not holding my breath. The council has yet to find the £50M to fund this without directly charging it to the council tax… which is why I say the flat owners should only be a little worried.