Divided opinions over swing bridge on Chichester Canal

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AN AMBITIOUS £3.5m project to open Chichester Canal to the sea could soon become a reality after 15 years of planning.

AN AMBITIOUS £3.5m project to open Chichester Canal to the sea could soon become a reality after 15 years of planning.

The Chichester Ship Canal Trust is hoping to submit a plan later this year which would restore navigation from Chichester Canal Basin to Chichester Harbour.

It would include restoration of stretches of the canal and a lifting bridge at the B2201 in Donnington to allow vessels to pass through.

Mike Coleman, a former canal board member who played a key role in creating the Chichester Ship Canal Restoration Plan, said it would be a ‘wonderful opportunity’ to open up the canal.

“The reason we’ve been involved in it for the last ten years plus is we see what a wonderful facility the whole thing is for the community for recreation, enjoyment and bringing people into the area,” he said.

“If you go talking to people like the Chichester Festival Theatre and businesses and restaurants in Chichester, they think it’s wonderful.”

However, there has been controversy over the plan, with a overview and scrutiny committee meeting seeing an urgent plea from former Chichester District Council chairman Peter Clementson, who is also councillor for East Wittering.

He said a cabinet decision to appoint a councillor to the canal board should be put on hold because the trust’s policy was to go ahead with the work. “Sending a representative is tantamount to agreeing with that policy,” he said.

He raised concerns about the impact of a new swing bridge on all residents south of the canal on the Manhood Peninsula.

His letter was countersigned by councillors Pieter Montyn, Graeme Barrett, Tricia Tull and John Ridd.

“The canal, built by the Earl of Egremont and a few others just before the advent of the railways, has never been particularly useful and has certainly never paid its way commercially,” said Cllr Clementson in his letter.

“There is no reason to reconnect the city to the sea via a canal other than the ‘challenge’ of replacing a means of transport which was already redundant by the time it was originally completed.”

The letter outlined a series of issues with the plan.

Describing the practical problems as ‘pretty obvious’, the letter said only small boats would be able to use the canal because of the limited depth of water. It also said the current canal trip was ‘quite far enough’ for the ‘average passenger’.

“The thought of people who have elected me and others to protect their interests being delayed from going to work or from returning home to a well earned evening’s rest because a lifting bridge has been raised is too ludicrous to contemplate,” said Cllr Clementson.

“To disturb the quietude of the stretch of canal passing alongside the Chichester Marina, with its picturesque permanently-moored houseboats and nesting birds, and to have our pretty Canal Basin, currently the home to swans and other aquatic birds, covered wall-to-wall with white plastic motor boats is just too sad to even think about.”

In response, Mr Coleman said: “I realise people will have different views to this. We do have to let people take sides.

“People have a choice. Clearly there are strong feelings about whether we want additional traffic along the canal.

“I can understand feelings of local councillors who have to listen to residents.”

However, he said there were a lot of untruths about the project which needed to be corrected.

“What worries me is that we’ve been putting out information from the public board and trust information about this project for the last three or four years,” he said. “Firstly, we’re not planning to open up the canal to large speed boats.”

Mr Coleman said there would be minimal traffic along the canal ‘if and when we do open it up to the sea’, and it would be restricted to low-drift and low-level craft and craft travelling at quite slow speeds.

He added, historically, there was a swing bridge at Donnington, previously lowered to a culvert by the highways department.

“All we want to do is replace that with a bridge that opens,” he said.

To minimise traffic delay, the maximum time the bridge would be raised and traffic stopped would be between five and ten minutes and it would not be raised during mornings, evenings and other high-usage times.

“It will be properly managed to minimise any impact on road usage,” he said.

“We’ve no intention of obstructing traffic and trying to stop people getting in and out of work.”

Speaking about the possibility of a plan going in later this year, he said: “Personally, I want to get there and get the JCBs going. I personally think once we start work on that bridge people will start to see what’s happening.”