Canal supporters, council representatives and others interested in the canal met at the Montgomery Canal Forum in Newtown on 20 June 2022.
Delayed by the pandemic, the Forum marked last year’s bicentenary of the final opening of the canal to trade in Newtown. While most of the engineering works had been completed earlier, it was not until 1821 that the final water supply and other arrangements were in place for the regular narrowboat trade which continued until the canal was suddenly closed in 1936 due to a breach in the bank at the northern end of the canal.
The Forum opened with an update from Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust Chairman Michael Limbrey who highlighted the powerful strategy for the canal which held as an example to other restorations across the country. He showed that the strategy manages restoration not just for boaters, or for its valuable collection of canal-age locks, bridges and other structures, nor just for its special habitats, but for the all the benefits the canal can bring the area. The presentation highlighted all these and the benefits for recreation and well-being for visitor and local communities.
Jason Leach, the Head of External Programme Delivery for the Canal & River Trust (which owns the canal) spoke about the highly successful restoration of the Droitwich Canal in Worcestershire and the benefits that had brought. He then described the preparation under way for projects under the £15 million UK Government grants for the canal.
Val Hawkins, Chief Executive of Mid Wales Tourism spoke about the canal in the context of tourism which is such an important part of the region’s economy.
It had been planned that the Forum would be held in Open Newtown’s new Riverside Venue, the centrepiece of a project by the new Open Newtown community group which is re-energising the town’s green spaces. Unfortunately the building was not finished in time but Stuart Owen from Open Newtown was able to give an enthusiastic presentation of the group’s achievements and ambitions for the town.
Michael Limbrey said, “While the Forum looked back to the completion of the Montgomery Canal to Newtown 201 years ago, really we were looking forward to all that is about to happen along the canal as it comes back to life. With over half now reopened and the towpath open for all 35 miles, the emphasis is now on reconnecting the isolated section in Welshpool with the national canal network and Jason Leach described the planning under way for projects under recent UK Government funding. Those works will include extensive new nature reserves specially constructed for the restoration adding no less than 17 acres of significant new space for wild plants and wildlife.
“The coming months will see the start of the long-awaited Schoolhouse Bridge project in Shropshire removing the canal’s last highway blockage in England and the Shropshire Union Canal Society work parties completing their lottery-supported project to reopen the canal to Crickheath Basin, the next point where boats can turn.
“What will all this mean for the local area? Our speakers told the Forum how important visitors are to mid-Wales, bringing nearly £1 billion to the local economy, and how reopening the canal link through Droitwich brought visitors and spending, creating nearly 200 jobs, regeneration of brownfield sites, recreational activity including cycling and canoeing and even an uplift in the value of canalside property.
“There are many places round the canal network where people gather with a coffee or a pint and watch the boats go by and there are so many opportunities for places like that along the Montgomery Canal.
“We could not have the achievements so far, nor what will be happening in the near future, without the huge support from the local community and further afield. Supporters from the local area and right across the country took part in the Montgomery Canal Triathlon in May, volunteers from far and wide have come to join restoration working parties, and in the same way supporters from Scotland to the South Coast have made donations to the Restore the Montgomery Canal! appeal. We are grateful to them all.”
This was the first public Forum after Covid interruptions. The event normally moves along the canal from Newtown to Welshpool and Oswestry.