Council proposes £110 million project to restore canal
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
A council has proposed an “ambitious” £110 million project to restore a canal.
Torfaen councillors are calling for a long-term full restoration of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, while also making improvements in the nearer future.
Torfaen Council says it will initially focus on the section under its ownership running from Elm Grove in Griffithstown, to the county borough boundary with Newport City Council.
But longer-term ambitions to fully restore the canal – including sections outside of the borough such as from Brecon to Newport – could also be pursued.
At a joint scrutiny meeting on Thursday, councillors said they wanted to see a strategy developed which would “think big and aim high”.
They agreed the long-term ambition should be to fully restore the canal, a project estimated to cost £110-million.
Rachel Jowitt, the council’s chief officer of neighbourhoods, planning and public protection, said this would be “a truly ambitious project at a scale rarely seen outside of major cities”.
The committee also recommended that the council aims to restore the canal from Pontypool to Cwmbran town centre so that it is navigable within the next five years.
Cllr Dave Thomas, who put forward the recommendation, said it would be “an absolute game-changer if we could do that”.
Cllr Huw Bevan said it would also open up tourism opportunities and increased connectivity, with boaters able to use the canal.
Councillors said the strategy should also focus on more short-term improvements, such as improving signage, maintenance of footpaths and encouraging safer cycling.
A council report says there has been “a groundswell of community concern” over the last year about a perceived lack of maintenance.
“They see an unloved asset and it needs care and attention,” Cllr Stuart Ashley said.
Cllr Bevan said the canal needed to be given “a higher degree of importance” when it comes to setting the council’s budget.
The committee recommended that the council monitors and records money spent on the canal, with the possibility of a separate budget being set up.
Plans to recruit a canal council officer who would help produce bids for funding and deliver the long-term aims of the project were also supported.
The committee also called for two new partnership boards to be set up to ensure progress is being made and to co-ordinate with other groups and organisations on the project.
The recommendations will go to the council’s cabinet as the authority draws up its vision for the canal.