Flood fears over canal restoration

Seymour Aitken beside the River Thames which would be diverted if the canal is restored

Seymour Aitken beside the River Thames which would be diverted if the canal is restored

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CRICKLADE, first town on the Thames, could be a town under the Thames if plans for canal restoration go through.

That is the view of Seymour Aitken, local resident and chairman of the Upper Thames Protection Society, which has organised a public meeting in the town on Tuesday.

But his claims are hotly denied by members of the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust, which says its proposals are open to public scrutiny.

Mr Aitken, 80, a former chairman of Cricklade Traders, said: "My concern is that they have applied for a grant of £12m for developing the canal between Moulden Hill and Cricklade but before doing that they have not obtained the engineering information to enable them to say it's going to be practicable and safe.

"Around Cricklade to the north, south and east there are various low-lying areas where housing could be put at risk. The water in the canal together with the added water from the heavens could increase the risk of flooding."

Mr Aitken's home is beside the Thames.

He said: "Our home, because it has stood here for about 400 years, is probably less at risk than some of the houses opposite us."

He said that another problem could be that the requirement for water for the canal, as well as the increased demand for water from Swindon's new houses would mean reservoir resources would be seriously stretched.

He said: "Cricklade was cut off around 30 years ago when a flood occurred and it could well happen again."

Chris Morley, secretary of Cricklade Action Partner-ship, is also worried that grant applications have been made before a full impact assessment has been made.

He said: "We have written to Cricklade Town Council expressing our concerns.

"There hasn't been a full assessment of the effect of the canal crossing the River Thames on its way to the course of the Thames and Severn Canal.

"Until they do the assessment we don't know if there will be more water in the Thames, or they could drain it."

Ken Oliver, the chief executive of the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust, said : "The trust and its partners are restoring the canal for the benefit of all the community. In doing so we are advised by independent professionals on the feasibility of projects.

"In Cricklade the Trust commissioned British Waterways to provide route study options and Riverscapes to engineer a scheme to cross the River Thames.

"Both reports were presented at a public consultation meeting in Cricklade during 2004.

"The Thames scheme required further validation and flood modelling which is currently being undertaken to confirm the initial report. The proposed change to the way the Thames flows around Cricklade would significantly improve the watercourse for wildlife and biodiversity.

"The trust fully endorses the aims of the Upper Thames Protection Society to maintain and improve the environment of the Thames and its tributaries. We continue to seek full dialogue with all interested parties.

"The route for the canal has been adopted by North Wilts District Council in the current local plan and the final scheme will be subject to due process by the normal planning application process.

"Water resources for the Wilts & Berks Canal were fully explored in a feasibility report in 1998 and the trust is currently commissioning consultants to design a scheme to implement this report."

Clive Wilce, chairman of the town council, said: "I'd have thought canals were likely to prevent flooding in Cricklade, but I'm no expert.

"I know the Canal Trust is having a flood risk assessment done and until we get the result of that I'll reserve judgment."

The meeting will be held in Cricklade Town Hall on Tuesday, beginning at 7.30pm.

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