THE Inland Waterways Association (IWA), Chester & Merseyside Branch, has been invited to take a seat on the Dee Estuary Consultative Committee by the Environment Agency for Wales.
The agency manages the basic navigation structures such as moorings, navigational aids etc in the area covered by law for the estuary.
This area is basically from the Point of Ayr on the Welsh side to Hoylake on the English side of the Wirral to a point upstream near the weir in Chester, the whole area being a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). There are special provisions covering the busy Port of Mostyn. The ancient and historic Port of Chester on the Dee sits within its boundaries.
The purpose of the committee is to be consulted upon management plans and construction of any significant work in the estuary. Most canal craft are unsuitable for the lower estuary but access to the tidal sections is blocked by the silting and poorly maintained condition of the Dee Branch from the main Shropshire Union Canal. There is increasing use of the estuary for commercial fishing and recreational uses while commercially, Airbus utilises the canal section taking wings by barge to Mostyn Port for export.
Jim Forkin, chairman, IWA Chester and Merseyside Branch, said: “The awarding of this seat is entirely justified on the efforts put in by the volunteers at the IWA to the historic port application and many events supporting canals in the North West. The plain truth is that in the UK, canals and waterways contribute some £2.6 billion to the economy and Chester simply is not encouraging boaters and navigators to visit the city to support business and jobs.”
The historical significance of the port and its untapped potential have been well documented by the Chester Waterway Strategy in 2012 and later in the successful application for Historic Inland Port Status in 2021. The IWA position on these documents is that little has been achieved practically on the ground in that there are no facilities for seagoing craft to go to the port. The Dee Branch silting has got worse but also has limited headroom due to a modern road bridge that replaced an earlier swing bridge.
While town councils across the country struggle with what to do in the future with the public’s reduction in uses for their traditional town centres, Chester is in the fortunate position of being virtually surrounded by canals and a river. The number of towns across England and Wales seeking to get abandoned canals reopened has grown, for example Stroud and the Cotswold Canals or Welshpool on the Montgomery. The problem Chester has is its connectivity with the Dee Branch closed and the weir preventing upstream navigation to as far as Farndon and boaters’ facilities.
The IWA sees a way forward with the old mill race at the side of the weir being readily available for converting into a lock with moorings bringing in boaters and eventually putting pressure for improvements to the Dee Branch.
To this end the IWA is currently undertaking a feasibility study into accomplishing this goal.