Daventry Canal Arm project moves along after council backing

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An initial phase of funding for Daventry District Council’s Canal Arm project was backed by members of the full council.

Following the Strategy Group’s recommendation on July 6, the proposal had to be approved by the full council on July 27 in order for the proposals for a two-mile stretch of waterway from the town centre to the nearby Grand Union Canal to move forward.

The passing of the motion means up to £300,000 will be spent on preparing a business plan which would be subject to due diligence and detailed examination.

Last Thursday’s vote was not a green light to spend £8.71million, that could only happen once the business plan is agreed upon by members of the council.

Demonstrators had gathered outside the civic buildings before the start of the session, just as they had done at the Strategy Group meeting earlier in the month, and so full was the council chamber with residents that some were forced to stand by the entrance.

Towards the start of the meeting questions submitted by the general public were put to council leader Chris Millar. Each question was read either by council chairman David James or by the person who had submitted it, before Mr Millar responded to all of them at once.

The questions addressed a range of topics:

Would a retail park for better shopping facilities be better for the town?

Was it undemocratic to ignore the people’s views given their public opposition to the project?

Could the council leader pledge not to spend anymore of the reserves or the CIL reimbursements on the completion of the Canal Arm?

Would the money be better spent on social housing, additional parking spaces, traffic calming measures on Ashby Road or CCTV cameras?

Where would further investment come from?

What is the attraction for tourists?

Responding Mr Millar said the Canal Arm was not about the short term, it was a transformation project for future generations, a new habitat for wildlife and, combined with the boat lift, a unique visitor attraction in the UK.

Incidentally the council also agreed to seek planning permission for an inclined plane boat lift on the canal as an alternative to locks.

The project would create an identity for the town and help to encourage inward investment.

On the topic of outside investment for the completion of the Canal Arm, Mr Millar said with ambition and determination the council can secure the funding. Another application in the next round of lottery funding was hinted at.

Mr Millar said the Canal and River Trust had agreed to put their logo on any publicity, thus showing their support for the project, and that Inland Waterways were also in favour of it.

During the debate on the recommendation some council members asserted they would vote down the longstanding project should a business plan show it would not be beneficial to the town and its residents.

For the moment though they were happy for the project to move forward as it forms part of the long-term vision set out by the council years ago which it hopes will transform the town into a new visitor destination encouraging tourism, leisure and economic growth.

A district council spokesperson said the funding identified from the council’s budgets for the canal project is capital money, used to invest in land and property and separate to that spent on the day-to-day running of services.

They added if investment for a first section is approved in the future, the £8.71m would be gradually reimbursed to the council through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) planning charges paid by developers of new housing to fund local infrastructure projects – and potentially other external funding sources.

The three Labour councillors voted against the recommendation and were particularly upset at chairman David James for not allowing them to respond to Cllr Colin Poole’s summary of the recommendation ahead of the vote.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Poole said: “Work is continuing behind the scenes towards securing the external funding needed to deliver the entire canal and we need to demonstrate to potential investors that we are prepared to match-fund the project with capital money if required.

“Towns need a unique offer to compete with others and attract more visitors, businesses and investment – Daventry’s lies in its key location in a district at the heart of the waterways network.

“The canal will lead to a vibrant water space destination in the centre of Daventry including retail and leisure outlets such as bars and restaurants.”

Daventry Town Council issued their response following the vote. They said: “Daventry Town Council is astounded by the decision made by Daventry District Council members to commit £8.71m of public money to build a 2.6km canal in the hope that they will attract further funding to connect this potential thin strip of water to the Grand Union Canal and then find further funding for a water space in the town centre.

“The Town Council is concerned that all monies raised through the Community Infrastructure Levy, will be earmarked for the canal and there will be no money left to fund other local infrastructure projects both in the town and the district.

“The Town Council wishes to emphasise funding is being raised via planning charges paid by developers of new housing to fund infrastructure projects within the District (CIL). This project will likely use all CIL monies and therefore reduce funding for other infrastructure projects therefore impacting on residents and parishes throughout the district not just Daventry town.”