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Following several years promoting the regeneration of the canal as a viable project, in 1997 the then North Cornwall District Council took up the challenge and developed a Partnership with key community groups, Parish Councils, Bude Stratton Town Council, statutory and non statutory organisations with the aim of developing a plan for the restoration of the canal and improve access and use of the canal.   The partnership was called Bude Canal Regeneration Partnership and was chaired by District Councillor Neil Burden.   The project would centre mainly on the two miles of canal still in water from the Sea Lock Bude to Helebridge, Marhamchurch near Bude.

The N.C.D.C. with the encouragement of the partnership in 1997 made an application for a grant to South West Regional Development Agency (SWERDA) for a feasibility study to determine what needed to be done to secure the future of the canal.

The feasibility study was carried out by W.S.Atkins, and their report in 1998 made a number of recommendations, the main one being to put the canal back into operation. i.e. navigable for boats.    This would need dredging of the canal, restoration of the two inland locks, and making the two bridges at Rodds Bridge and Whalesborough navigable.   Consultation of this report showed that there was sufficient evidence to proceed to the next stage of detailed feasibility and identifying costs.   Further funding was granted by SWERDA and the study was carried out by Halcrow in 2001.   After publication the report which gave details of all aspects, needed a full consultation exercise which took about eighteen months.   This resulted in the Partnership deciding to proceed and recruit additional project staff to prepare detailed specifications and proposals for each element of the identified project objectives.

In 2004 following liaison with the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Partnership made an application for a two phase grant.  A development phase, which if successful, would lead to the implementation phase, and at the same time applications were made to SWERDA and the European Development Fund “Objective One” programme (ERDF).

In March 2005 a sum of £271,000 for the development phase was granted by HLF.   This allowed the Partnership to engage Ian Mander, a chartered civil engineer and Andrea Vaillancourt-Alder, an experienced educationalist.   Mr Mander became the Project Manager and Mrs Vaillancourt-Alder became the Community Development Manager.

During the following eighteen months very detailed extensive reports and plans were prepared for Engineering, Conservation, Business, Interpretation, Audience Development and Education, Access, Marketing and Training matters, this formed the basis of the three volume report which was presented to HLF.      The other main funders, SWERDA and ERDF, had agreed that if HLF were satisfied to support the Implementation Phase they would commit the agreed level of funding to the project.   The HLF application for the Implementation Phase was successful and funds totalling £3.5 million were secured.   With the support of NCDC and pledges from partners within the Partnership the total was just over £3.8 million in October 2006

Meanwhile NCDC with Devon County Council were seeking funding from another European Fund – Intereg.   This was to develop walking routes on the canal system where appropriate and possible.   Not all land owners were convinced of the benefits to the wider community.  This project linked well with the Bude Canal Regeneration Project.   The Project received about £70,000 and two excellent walking routes were achieved and there are leaflets available which clearly denotes the route.   They are ‘The Planekeepers Path’ and ‘The Aquaduct’ Trail’.

With the funds secured work started in earnest with a deadline of 31st December 2008.   This was a significant date as the ERDF funding programme for Cornwall was due to cease.   A definite incentive.

To ensure the public ownership of the scheme the Partnership was restructured and a wider membership was encouraged.  Whilst the Partnership had a wide view of the project a small steering group drawn from the main stakeholders was set up to help NCDC oversee the progress of the immediate works.   The Steering Group met every month and Cllr Neil Burden was elected Chairman of both the Partnership and the new Steering Group.

The Project Team worked initially on contracts and obtaining permissions such as Planning, Flood Defence and Building Control consents.

The first contract was awarded in February 2007 to CORMAC for the ‘urban landscaping’ of Lower Wharf.  This transformed the area to mainly pedestrian and ensured better access to this historic area.   The contract was valued at £550,000.

The remaining eight main contracts needed to complete the implementation covered the following works:

  • Soft landscaping
  • Buildings
  • Locks refurbishment/dredging
  • Banks and towpath improvements
  • Bridge modifications
  • Landing stages
  • Sculptures
  • Seating/canal interpretation
  • Safety/guidance for users and visitors

All was going well until on the evening of March 10th 2008 when a northwesterly storm coincided with a very high tide.   The resultant powerful tidal surges coming into the lock chamber of the sea lock at Bude lifted the southern canal gate off its pivot causing this gate to tilt and break the seal of the two gates, allowing the water in the canal to start to escape thus starting to drain the canal.  The gate was lifted by the tidal surge getting under the cross member beams and displacing the gate.

To prevent the eventual total loss of water out of the canal from the sea lock to Rodd’s Bridge Lock, a distance of one mile and two hundred yards, a coffer dam was constructed just above Falcon Bridge.   This action was absolutely necessary to save the stocked fishery in the canal and the outdoor activity businesses that are main users of the canal.   The coffer dam made of one cubic metre bags of stones or sand was completed by 2am on the 11th March 2008,  this was achieved because of the excellent co-operation between local businesses and contractors with the NCDC.

When the Lower Basin had drained and the sea lock gate had been removed to allow repairs to it and the structure, the state of the Basin and canal below Falcon Bridge was revealed.    Apart from the need to fully dredge this section, extensive repairs and maintenance to the banks and walls were also revealed.   To their credit NCDC grasped the nettle and authorised these works.   The dredging removed in excess of 6,000 cubic metres of silt and this now allows deeper keeled vessels to enter the Lower Basin once more.  The other work to banks and walls was thorough and stabilised this part of the canal.   The contract period for the completion of these works was the 30th June 2008 and was completed on time.

The refilling of the Lower Basin to the sea lock was estimated to take about one week by the gradual removal of the coffer dam.   As you may recall the summer of 2008 was a very wet one and on the 8th July when it was planned to start the refilling of this part of the canal there was a major period of rainfall inland in the catchment area of the rivers that feed the Bude Valley and the canal.  This caused a surge of water which damaged the coffer dam to the extent that the basin was refilled before the end of that day.

This essential work was outside of project and was borne by NCDC and was costed at just under £500,000.  These costs included remedial works to the sea lock gates to prevent the reoccurrence of the effects of the storm in March 2008.   This included cladding the face of the inner gates to prevent the lift under the cross beams of the gates.

The continual wet weather with soggy ground and often large volumes of water in the canal made the works of contractors very difficult and often in conflict, such as the dredging company needing high water levels to float their barges, whilst the contractor repairing banks needed low water levels to expose the bottom of the canal banks.

With regard to the dredging of the canal between Falcon Bridge to Helebridge, the system  was to have been by pumping a slurry to the disposal site on an adjacent farm.   However as the dredging moved down the canal the pumping became more difficult because of the ‘lift’ to get the pumped slurry to a high level site on the farm where it was needed.   When the dredging moved to the section from Rodd’s Bridge to Falcon Bridge the contractors employed barges and small tugs to move the dredging to a point where it was removed by haulage to the final disposal site.    From Helebridge to Falcon Bridge another 11,000 cubic metres of dredgings were removed from the canal, making a total of 17,000 cubic metres, which is 25,000 tons.   All the dredgings were disposed of on farms as a soil conditioner, after the statutory testing and permissions had been obtained.

Part of the agreement for grant aid required the project to show economic benefit and this was achieved by constructing four new canal side workshops on Lower Wharf and four new offices above the new Visitor Centre.   This has been completed and as far as can be ascertained they are successful.   Additionally the Tourist Visitor Centre was refitted when the canal information centre and education room were created.   The new canal information centre has some good displays and is a good place to find out about all the aspects of the canal.

By the end of December 2008 the contracts were substantially completed.   HLF did agree an extension to 31st March 2009 which was also the end date for North Cornwall District Council which was replaced on 1st April 2009 by the new Unitary Authority for the whole of Cornwall, Cornwall Council.

The project had always been an ambitious one; however, some aspects had to be reduced during the Development Phase to ensure the bids were at an acceptable level.   The result was that at the end of the Implementation Phase some key elements were not achieved.  These include:

  • The raising of Rodd’s Bridge to 2.2 metres or more navigation.
  • Provision of a slipway at each end of the canal to allow boats to launch/leave the canal.
  • Reconnection of the canal at Helebridge to Helebridge Wharf.

At the end of the project, it was the desire of the Partnership that these missing crucial elements would, in due course, be completed by the new Council, adding significantly to the value of an already substantial achievement.

View a list of the Partnership Members and also the Steering Group

This article is based on the new Chapter 11 of ‘Bude Canal Past and Present’ by Bill Young and Bryan Stamp when the book was updated and revised in 2009.   Chapter 11 was written by Charlie David who was at that time Public Spaces Manager for NCDC and had been involved in the project since its inception in 1998.   Mr. David is now Area Manager for the Environment in Cornwall East, Cornwall Council.

The photographs were taken by Chris Jewell and are part of the collection held by the Bude Canal and Harbour Society, Registered Charity 1086646.

Sept 2010 - We will add photographs to illustrate this article and also make it available in pdf format for easy printing.