A Vision for Chester’s Waterways

Issue date: 16th May 2013

Over the last 12 months, IWA Chester & Merseyside Branch has been working in partnership with the Chester Canal Heritage Trust and Canal & River Trust to develop a waterway strategy which would be a key element in the Chester One City Plan. A suggested vision document has been presented to Chester Renaissance.
The vision will be a key element in safeguarding the Dee Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal and improving access to the upper reaches of the river Dee.  A drop in session for the public was held on Tuesday 14th May.

The strategy is as follows:
For centuries, people have gravitated to water for their survival and more recently their recreation.  Many local authorities have undertaken waterside and waterway regeneration schemes in recent years. These schemes increase visitors, maximise marketing and economic potential and create vibrant ‘must go – must see’ areas for recreation and tourism.  Examples are Brindley Place in Birmingham, Meadow Lane Lock in Nottingham, the Liverpool Link of course and even the waterside areas in Stratford upon Avon.
Chester has a unique linked system of waterways – canal, tidal and non-tidal river - but, compared with other cities, Chester has been left behind in realising their regeneration potential.

  • The canal is under-used
  • The Dee Branch is becoming derelict and unkempt
  • The tidal Dee is all but deserted
  • The upper Dee is inaccessible to visiting craft.
  • The riverside walks are blighted by rampant and neglected vegetation.

Above all, Chester’s waterways are not exploited as an inter-linked system. Yet, with a little imagination, the waterspace and its surroundings could be the focus for major regeneration around water-based activities as has been done elsewhere in the UK and Europe.
The One City Plan offers Chester a golden opportunity to maximise the regeneration potential of its waterspace. The prime need is to connect the upper reaches of the Dee with the tidal Dee and the Shropshire Union Canal so that Chester becomes a worthwhile boating destination. The first imperative is an improved and safe passage between the canal and the upstream Dee. This could be achieved by:
i)   building a lock adjacent to the weir on the Handbridge side of the river
ii)  improving facilities around the Dee lock itself
iii) making the Dee Branch navigable again.
These improvements will promote wider multi-use of the waterways (both boating and pedestrian), which in turn will be the catalyst for stronger regeneration of Chester’s neglected waterside areas.
This paper has been developed following discussions between IWA, Chester Canal HeritageTrust and Canal & River Trust. As part of the wider remit of the Trust to enable greater access for all to the waterway network, CRT is in broad agreement with the proposals as outlined in the paper.
The time is now right to ‘make a difference’ by exploiting the regeneration opportunities offered by Chester’s unique and historic system of waterways. The first step could be to determine the navigation opportunities for visiting boaters. This could then be followed by a financial and technical feasibility study of the options, possibilities and challenges involved in bringing these ideas to fruition and making the best of the waterways of Chester and West Cheshire.