Bid to restore South Yorkshire canal put on ice

Mike Silk, of the Barnsley, Dearne and Dove Canals Trust, pictured by the canal junction. Picture: Marie Caley NSYT Dearne Dove MC 3
Mike Silk, of the Barnsley, Dearne and Dove Canals Trust, pictured by the canal junction. Picture: Marie Caley NSYT Dearne Dove MC 3

Plans to restore one of South Yorkshire’s canals, which have been in 30 years in the making, may have to be abandoned due to a ‘lack of council and community support’.

The Barnsley, Dearne and Dove Canals Trust, formally known as the Barnsley Canal Group, have been working to reinstate the disused Dearne and Dove canal since the 1980s.

The Dearne and Dove was forced to completely close in the 1960s, apart from the last half mile and four locks at Swinton. This followed many problems with mining subsidence and competition from rail and road alternatives. The canal was left derelict for 20 years. But, in the 1980s a small group of local canal enthusiasts started campaigning for the canal to be restored to its former glory.

A feasibility study conducted by consulting engineers Atkins in 2006 showed that, although it would be expensive, a complete restoration of the canal was possible.

The 250-page report highlighted that much of the original route has been obliterated by major roads and other development, and recommended a largely new route which parallels the old route for a significant proportion of its length.

Michael Silk, Director of engineering for the Barnsley, Dearne and Dove Canals Trust, said: “To be frank, there are many issues to be resolved before the canal can be restored. It’s been abandoned for about 60 years and as a small group of enthusiasts we have been working to try to make this happen. I have personally been working on this for about 12 years.”

The Dearne and Dove Canal ran from the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, at Swinton, to Barnsley. In 1798, the canal was open from Swinton to the Elsecar branch, but it did not reach Barnsley until 1804.

It was 10 miles long plus two branches. It had 19 locks including the stop lock at Barnsley, plus six on the Elsecar branch.

The canal closed in stages; In 1906, the Worsborough branch was closed, followed in 1928 by the Elsecar branch. The last boat passed right along the canal in 1934 and the canal only remained open from Barnsley to Barnsley Main and from Swinton to Manvers Colliery. The Barnsley end closed in 1942 and the section to Manvers in 1952. The proposal to reinstate the canal has been plagued by problems, and it now seems that`the plan may have stalled as no work has been completed, apart from some minor works on the Elsecar basin in 1990, for about 14 years.

Mr Silk said: “At the moment it does look unlikely that we can make a case for restoring it with the money it would involve. The difficulty is that there’s not a lot of money around and there’s not a lot of community or council support. It really needs Barnsley and Rotherham council to be supportive. The benefits are widely known and I don’t see any reason why it should be any different for South Yorkshire.

“Buildings have been placed over the original line of the canal and to remove them would be counter-productive to jobs and the prosperity of the area. That is not something that the Trust would ever want to do. Until a restoration line is accepted for the local plan the lack of status means that the restoration line is vulnerable.

“Having said that in engineering terms it just means that alternative routes may need to be found at some point in the future and generally where there is the will a way can be found.

“We would still really like to restore the canal, but perhaps we will just be able to make it nicer to look at.

The restoration has also been threatened by the plans for HS2, but Michael is hopeful that this will not be the main cause of the project coming to an end.

He said: “The impact of HS2 on the new alignment is capable of being minimised at low cost. If HS2 goes ahead it is hoped that appropriate changes can be made. As the restoration line has no official status yet this is going to be a hard battle to fight. Ideally, Barnsley council need to include the Atkins restoration line in their local plan to help the fight.”

One local resident who is behind the plan is keen to see the canal transformed to its former glory.

Roger Drew, aged 63, from Mexborough, said: “I keep looking at the website to see what’s going on, but I’m saddened to see it doesn’t look like anything has happened for a while. It would be nice to think it can happen, but it seems like it’s close to never happening.

“It has a good history and bringing it back would be good for local people, it would bring in jobs and a leisure facility. I think a lot of people would want to use it.”

Speaking about his long-standing fight, he said: “I am passionate about the advantages of having a viable canal network for the interest it adds to an area and the benefits to all who live around the canals. It would be really great if all the councils could at least offer a supportive approach because I really do not see that they have anything to lose.

“The canals are a great tourist attraction, help bring communities together create all sorts of opportunities for leisure activities. At the end of the day they are better restored than the muddy, waterlogged ditches that remain at many locations. It is an uphill struggle, but it is important that the dream is kept alive and the opportunity to make the link at a future date is not lost.”

Karl Battersby, Rotherham Council’s Strategic Director for Environment and Development Services, said: “We would be pleased to meet with representatives of the Barnsley, Dearne and Dove Canal Trust to discuss their plans for the future restoration of the canal. Our local plan recognises the importance of canals as green corridors and historic environments, and we are supportive of their preservation and restoration.”

No comment was available from Barnsley Council.

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