Issue date: 15th February 2013
Following additional investment from its local authority owners, along with encouragement and practical support from the volunteer sector, the Basingstoke Canal Authority plans to fully re-open the Canal in time for Easter this year. Surrey and Hampshire County Councils, which jointly own the Canal, have spent £1.6 million in recent months on lock gates, lock walls, culverts and embankment repairs. There is a further £2 million available from each of the owners over the next 4 years (i.e. a total commitment of £5.6 million is being spent on the Canal) to address a long list of similar but thus far slightly less urgent repairs and deferred maintenance. Please see the Basingstoke Canal page on the Surrey County Council website for further details.
The flight of 14 locks at Deepcut, which has been closed to boats since 2009 is expected to fully reopen at Easter 2013, restoring navigation along the whole 32 miles of waterway. To celebrate this work, a cruise along the whole length of the Canal is being arranged – see separate feature. The re-opening date is dependent on contractors and the vagaries of the weather, and there are contingent plans in hand for the celebratory campaigning cruise should there be any delay. The western and eastern ends of the Canal have, of course remained open, with the exception of short term stoppages for works and the perennial summer water supply problem, throughout the period of closure for the Deepcut locks since 2009. Work continues to identity new water supplies for the Canal, and the situation has been eased over the years by the back-pumping at the eastern end. The Environment Agency has recently agreed that the volumes of water back-pumped from the river Wey can be increased, and this will help keep the Canal open for longer in dry periods. The continuing investment in the Canal does, of course, mean that over the next couple of years there will continue to be some unavoidable temporary closures to navigation.
Now that the local authorities have demonstrated their commitment to the Canal by investing these funds on bringing the waterway up to a good standard, it is vitally important that boaters commit to using the Canal for it to prosper in the future as a navigable waterway. Whilst the two County Councils have funded this latest refurbishment out of tax-payers funds, they have made clear that the Canal must continue on a sound financial footing, largely paying its way in the future. The implication is that this is the last time that this amount of tax-payers resources is likely to be injected into the Canal. In short, “use it or lose it!”. At present, the fees for navigating the Canal and mooring on it are both well below that for other waterways in the South East, and so it is likely that fees will rise, so that boaters can be seen to be paying their fair share. The Canal has long been supported by IWA, WRG and Surrey and Hants Canal Society, which is now operating under the new name of Basingstoke Canal Society, and all the voluntary sector organisations involved have reaffirmed their continuing support for the Canal.