A 21-year lease of Bridgwater Docks from Somerset County Council (SCC) to Canal & River Trust (CRT) comes to an end in July this year. For more than five years, the Branch has been lobbying both parties to the lease about the future of the Docks. In addition that the restoration of the Barge Lock and the Bascule Bridge (which straddles the Docks) to working order should take place.
The Docks are an integral part of Bridgwater’s history and heritage. They were awarded Grade II listing in 1973, following the closure of the Docks to shipping a few years earlier. The Docks once provided valuable connections from the River Parrett to the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal through both the Ship Lock and the Barge Lock. However, the first of these closed following the closure to shipping and we understand that the latter has been unnavigable since 2002/3. Stop planks were inserted following a spring tide that overtopped the Barge Lock gates and allowed saline water to enter the Docks and the canal.
At the annual user group meeting for the Bridgwater & Taunton canal last December, CRT informed those present that it would not be renewing or extending its lease of the Docks upon its termination date. Any of the boat owners whose mooring agreements ran beyond the termination date would receive a credit or a refund for the unexpired period. CRT also reported that they would be undertaking dilapidation works at the Docks, as required under the terms of the lease and would be working with Somerset County Council to secure the future of the Docks.
It was therefore a surprise to learn that the lease been temporarily extended. CRT has also written to boat owners in May stating that their mooring agreements would be terminated in advance of the eventual termination date of the lease and that they should prepare to remove their boats from the Docks, in the event that nobody is found to take the Docks on for the future. We have pointed out to CRT (and to SCC) that the Bridgwater & Taunton canal is an isolated waterway, the secure moorings on the canal are fully occupied. Removing the 30 or so boats moored in the Docks will be both inconvenient and costly to the boat owners. CRT has responded that it will continue to extend the mooring agreements for 3 months at a time for the foreseeable future but will not make any contribution to the costs of removing boats from the Docks.
The West Country Branch continues to lobby the local authorities and others within Somerset about the future of the Docks. We are working in particular with Somerset County Council and Bridgwater Town Council. At the moment discussions need to take place on the dilapidation obligations that CRT has under the terms of the lease. Our view is that until these are agreed it may be premature for any parties who might have an interest in the future of the Docks to get fully involved..
An important issue relates to the Bascule Bridge which straddles the Docks and which we understand has not been fully raised since 2002/3, although an attempt was made to open one of the spans in 2005. More recently, SCC Highways commissioned a Principal Inspection of the Bascule Bridge which was carried out in May 2019, the report on which is awaited. It seems likely that the Bascule Bridge will need to be restored or replaced in a few years’ time but at the moment we do not know what decisions will need to be taken.
A booklet about the Bascule Bridge was prepared by the Branch in 2018 and can be found on the Branch website or by requesting a copy from Ray Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org