Report of the Head of Public Rights of Way and Country Parks (DCC) informing Members of the work that has taken place to date.
Consideration was given to a report * of the Public Rights of Way and Country Parks Manager.
Canal ‘Stage2’ works and projects
· Two County engineers now provided dedicated support to the progression of stage 2 works and projects.
· The aluminium stop planks had been ordered..
· A lot of work would be required to open up and maintain inspection access to embankments along the canal over the coming years. Coppicing trees along the top of the embankment would continue through the winter..
· County Bridges and Structures Engineers would work with the Canal Manager to draw up an Asset Management Plan next year once the highest priority works had been completed. Discussion took place regarding the need to recognise the canal as an important community asset as well as its fiscal value.
· The old maintenance barge might struggle to pass forthcoming boat regulations. It would be necessary to determine the condition of the metal work by shot blasting it and then a decision would be needed as to whether it was worth spending money on it. In the short term the canal team would be able to start their winter work by adapting the unpowered tub barge to take an outboard motor.
New inspection and minor maintenance boat
The Committee wished to record a vote of thanks to the Friends of the Grand Western Canal as, in May 2015, they had donated a new Whaly boat and Honda outboard engine to the Canal Ranger Service.
Fenacre Water Transfer System
DCC officers and staff from Aggregate Industries (AI) had met and had agreed an outline design to create a new outfall from the stream below the concrete monitoring weir, flowing into a new ditch which would run diagonally across the AI owned land and then feed into the ditch running parallel to the road that was excavated by an adjacent landowner prior to the 2012 breach. The idea was to keep the water above ground with a structure at the head of it that would allow water ‘in’ when needed and ‘out’ when not. There would also need to be some works at the outlet end to protect the canal bank where this ditch joins the canal. The advantage of this layout was that it had the flow of the water largely behind it.
Aggregate Industries were still waiting for a response from the Environment Agency regarding a licence to undertake the work. They would not be able to proceed until they were in receipt of this. It was suggested the Chairman and Vice Chairman could bring their influence to bear in speeding things up.
Discussion took place regarding where the water was coming from to fill the channel. It was confirmed that the quarry has a sump with pumps that automatically operate to pump water out into the Fenacre Water when a certain level in the sump is reached. However, concern was expressed that there may be more than one exit for the water. Members of the committee felt that DCC should adopt a firm negotiating position (with regard to the current review of the quarry’s planning permission) by insisting that all available water should be directed to the Fenacre Water and that the upgraded system should be capable of directing as much water to the canal as the EA will allow.
Further concern was expressed at the length of time it was taking to secure the best course of action for the Canal. However, the Public Rights of way and Country Parks Manager said that progress had been made in that there was now a better design which will direct water to the Canal. She stated that she would talk to the Planning Development Manager at the County Council and would also speak to the quarry manager regarding other potential routes of water out of the quarry. She would also continue to involve DCC’s hydrological consultants to ensure that the proposed scheme will provide the desired outcomes. Additionally she commented that whilst progress was slow in this area the infrastructure of the canal was constantly improving. It was less ‘leaky’ than it was. The County Councillors requested that they be copied into any communication with the people she had mentioned so that they were kept informed and could monitor progress.
The question was asked as to whether there had been any significant fluctuation in the water levels. It was confirmed that there hadn’t and that the sealing of leaks near Rock Bridge had probably had a significant effect. The levels would be kept slightly lower in the winter with 5cm coming off over the next month.
Fenacre Farm – flood risk issue
The canal team had been talking to hydrological adviser about managing risk and liability. It was vital that the team had all evidence in place should something go wrong. There was general agreement that installing the water monitoring system had been very successful.
Canal Basin play area
There was general agreement that a play area for children was very much needed in the canal basin. It might be possible, as part of the ‘Trim Trail’ around Tiverton scheme, that the play area could have one or two pieces of adult equipment installed. Discussions were still taking place.
Emergency Response Plan
The Canal Manager had drafted a new Emergency Response Plan for the canal and had been consulting with the relevant key agencies. It was important to link in with Parish Council Emergency Plans. Discussion took place regarding how vital this document was which in a major incident could save lives. Relevant contact details would be included in the event of an emergency. It was AGREED that a live copy needed to be available to the public on the website, albeit this needed to be in a redacted version so that personal contact information was not visible.
Canal Management Plan
The Canal Manager had recently begun the process of reviewing and redrafting this document. The old version had not been an easy document to read so the intention was to create a new document that was much simpler. Examples from around the country would be looked at to get the best possible version for the canal. A draft would be included for discussion at the next meeting of the Committee. It was suggested that it needed to make reference to the fact that Mid Devon District Council was a ‘co-sponsor’ of the canal.
There had been over 200 responses to the visitor survey and visitor numbers were up. Social media and Tripadvisor in particular had been helpful in bringing visitors to the canal. Reviews on Tripadvisor were consistently very good. It was explained that the Country Park has its own Facebook page but there was also another Facebook group (set up and moderated by Philip Brind) for the general public which it was commented the Ranger Service didn’t contribute much to. This group has over 1000 people who have joined. It was suggested that exchange of information between the two pages could be linked. The Canal Manager explained that whilst the Canal Ranger Service did post replies to address some of the issues raised on the group page, it lacked resources to be able to have a regular presence or to get involved in protracted discussions.
The GrandWestern200 twitter account, introduced in 2014, was still being followed and it could be that links could be tweeted here as well as press releases and news. The Canal Manager referred the committee to the Canal Ranger Service’s Twitter account which they currently used.
A recent Age UK event had not been very successful, this might have been due to poor publicity. It was agreed that events needed to be managed well and that ideally somebody from the Ranger Service needed to be present at most of them.
Volunteers had completed 254 days of work as a result of Community Work Placements. This extra help had proved vital in getting all the necessary works completed.
Wildlife Advisory Group Minutes – 6 July 2015
The coir rolls at Snakes Wood project was outlined and clarification was given about the plant called ‘Pendulous Sedge’. There had been one coot on the canal during a recent wildlife survey. A site visit had taken place where it was noticed that fringed lily had spread and would need to be sprayed and that there were several Flowering Rush plants.