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Calls made to restore Montgomery Canal to Newtown

Could the Montgomery Canal be restored all the way to Newtown to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the granting of the town’s Royal Charter in 2029?

That was the intriguing question posed at the annual Montgomery Canal Forum this week by John Dodwell, Montgomery Canal Partnership chairman.

A member of the audience asked if it was realistic, due to the cost of replacing bridges and other road works, to reopen the canal from Berriew to Newtown.

Mr Dodwell said the canal restoration to Newtown was desirable and feasible but whether it was achievable would depend on raising the necessary funding. He suggested that reopening the canal to Newtown would be a great way to celebrate the 750th anniversary of granting of the town’s Royal Charter.

Michael Limbrey, Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust chairman, said that if engineering works planned for a new structure at Schoolhouse Bridge, near Oswestry were successful, the same system could be used between Berriew and Newtown.

“There are real opportunities and it’s only money and engineering that we need to restore the canal,” he added, mentioning the support from Newtown and Welshpool Town Councils for the canal restoration.

Russell George, Montgomeryshire AM and vice president of Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust, said he believed that the canal restoration would be a project that could qualify for support from a potential Mid Wales Growth Deal because of its impact on tourism.

He praised the different organisations working together to support the restoration of the canal, saying that real momentum had been achieved. Assembly Members often spoke positively in the Senedd about the canal.

A member of the audience said she believed the Welsh Government should have funded the canal restoration a long time ago to support leisure and tourism. “I think this project should be high on their agenda, but they seem to forget about us in Mid Wales,” she said.

Mr Limbrey gave an update of works on the 35-mile canal, half of which has already been restored. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a substantial new nature reserve had been established atAston, near Queens Head, Oswestry and choked lengths of the canal in Mid Wales had been dredged.

The lottery programme includes re-watering a derelict length of canal to Crickheath Wharf, the next turning point on the canal, to extend the section connected to the Llangollen Canal by one and a half miles.

Welshpool Town Council is looking to create a nature reserve and several more were needed along the Welsh length of the canal.

Mr Limbrey said the trust was “thrilled to bits” that £210,000 had been raised towards a £300,000 appeal for the replacement of Schoolhouse Bridge and he thanked everyone who had donated money.

Emphasising the popularity of canal sites around the country where people gather to watch the boats, he hoped to see visitors congregate at sites along the Montgomery Canal at Queen’s Head, Llanymynech, Welshpool and Newtown in the future.

He said the canal had more original bridges, locks and aqueducts per mile than most waterways and was famous for its plants and wildlife.

Brian Hogbin, Shropshire Wildlife Trust vice president, spoke about the importance of the canal’s rare flora and fauna, which had made it a European Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

He described it as “a green corridor of biodiversity”, arguing that the variety of wildlife is what makes the canal special for everyone. New reserves are to be built alongside the canal in Mid Wales to compensate for the loss of habitat when the canal is restored.

He stressed he need for the right balance between the needs of boats and the canal wildlife.

Belinda Davenport, of the award-winning Victorian Tearoom, Northwich, spoke about the potential for businesses associated with the canal. She advised businesses to work hard and together on their marketing to give people a reason to visit and return.

In addition to running a busy tea room and organising themed afternoon teas, she ran popular vintage afternoon cruises for groups.

A collection at the forum raised 274.05 which will multiply to nearly £1,400 when pledges by supporters to match the total and Gift Aid are added.