Graham Aldred, Member
This article is from Signpost 68, Summer 2021
I am sure you will all be very glad to know that the Canal and Rivers Trust (CRT) has confirmed that a footbridge will be installed at the Toddbrook Feed Weir. This will be required to allow their staff to service new flow control systems which are now recognised as essential after the recent near disaster. The CRT has said that the footbridge will normally be available for the Public to use to cross the weir.
This is excellent news and it is a culmination of all my frustrated efforts of nearly 3 years, starting in January 2015, of negotiation with the CRT to allow a footbridge to be manufactured and installed. But after 3 years of prevarication and procedural opposition I had to give up when the CRT approval costs exceeded the cost of the footbridge and the subsequent conditions imposed by the CRT would have required the Community to provide an incalculable fund (£100-200k) to cover 60 years or more of various imagined liabilities.
The solution was always that the CRT should simply own the footbridge as it should be endorsed and underwritten by the Public Benefit ethos of the CRT Constitution and for the CRT to accept whatever liabilities the new footbridge might bring along with those of the many thousands of ancient footbridges that the CRT already owns. So there will be a footbridge at the weir. All our efforts were not in vain, in fact, after the Dam disaster I received a verbal apology in December 2019 from a very senior CRT manager who acknowledged that the “the CRT had treated us very badly”. The petition with nearly 400 signatures is a strong measure of Community support, plus all the footpath preparation work to avoid the low boggy ground, and especially the generous permission by the owners of Gap House to permit public use of a short path to reach the official PROW paths on their land. This was agreed at the outset in 2015, without it there would have been no point in the Project both then and now.
The bridge will be made of metal and will meet all the required specifications that the Trust will apply to cover the safety of their staff and any equipment needed to service the new weir controls. At last it will provide a safe and predictable weir crossing to connect the scenic Toddbrook valley into the extensive public footpath network. We have waited many years for this.
The existence of the ‘dry crossing’ can still be associated with David Frith as originally intended. However the bridge itself exists as a necessary engineering component of the new sluice works rather than a memorial specifically to David Frith, who was a PNFS footpath inspector. Perhaps there could be a simple commemorative post nearby which the CRT might allow. I rather hope it will become known affectionately as “Frith’s Bridge” as David Brown, PNFS Secretary has suggested, I think David would have liked that. The footbridge will provide the much needed predictable means of crossing the Todd at the weir. It will enable pleasant access to many existing PROW footpaths with relative ease.
The new bridge would in addition enable a potential ‘round the reservoir’ route but a new quite complicated path over a mile long would have to be devised and constructed. This route could not be flat or as benign as the existing reservoir path as some people hope it might be. From a preliminary survey it has to cross various walls, hedges and fences, it needs 1 or 2 additional footbridges and some drainage, also steps on a steep bank and certain other places. It has to climb high above the weir because it is impossible to hug the reservoir at that end. It could then reach the bridge by use of the existing PROW paths. The first half mile from the Dam (or a bit more) could run on CRT land which would simplify the problems somewhat. But further on negotiations would be required with 2 or 3 different landowners and two Authorities.
It is a Project in its own right involving approval by several authorities. There could be environmental protection issues, Woodland Trust and SSSI. It will have quite high organisational costs, plus material and transport costs but it will be enabled by the new footbridge and it is quite feasible. However I am convinced that the top water level of this ‘High Risk’ reservoir should be lowered permanently by at least 1.5m. in order to relieve the pressure and loading on the 180 year old dam seriously damaged both in 1970 and 2019. This will increase the safety for the school and town considerably. This should happen for fundamental safety reasons alone, but it has a secondary minor consequence. The exposed margin of the lowered reservoir could then be exploited to provide a much more simple, open and benign route for most of the ‘circular’ path and this would eliminate some (but not all) of the difficulties and costs mentioned previously.
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