Former Chatteris councillor calls on Fenland to kick start waterways project to stop ‘squandering’ an opportunity to ‘massively improve’ the area’s tourism

Fens Waterway link

Fens Waterway link - Credit: Archant

Chris Howes, who served as a town councillor for 12 years, has been appointed to the national restoration committee of the Inland Waterways Association has made the call which he believes could ‘massively improve’ Fenland tourism.

Mr Howes, has written to Councillor Michelle Tanfield, chairman of the tourism board, to point out: “There currently exists a unique opportunity to massively improve Fenland tourism which is currently being squandered.

“I’m talking about the current inertia within (or apparent death of) the Fenland Waterways Link Project. This project is failing through lack of leadership, and the Fenland Tourism Board could kick start it again, not through spending money, but by lobbying the Environment Agency.”

He said: “It’s always struck me as a shame that in Fenland we haven’t developed our natural resources in the same way as Holland, promoting boating, cycling and walking in countryside which cries out for it. Despite the very best efforts of Fox’s and other marinas, only a small amount of our unique waterways are safely navigable, and facilities for boaters are few and far between.

“In 2010 a hugely exciting project was announced to link by navigable waterways the cathedral cities of Lincoln, Peterborough and Ely. It was estimated that it would bring £millions into the area.

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“The project involves both Fenland and Lincolnshire. The Lincolnshire half appears to be making real progress, albeit slower than one would wish, whereas the Fenland half shows no indication of any progress at all.

“The difference between the two parts of the project (Lincolnshire and Fenland) appears to be that of leadership. The northern half is being driven by the local branch of the IWA in very close association with Lincolnshire County Council, whereas the Fenland bit is being ‘led’ by the Environment Agency The EA has currently come up with the anti navigation but innovative idea of the ‘re-naturalisation’ of rivers. In Fenland they have actually driven steel piles across the face of Welches Dam lock to prevent boating access. It appears that the very people charged with taking the project forward, may be completely against it.”

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Mr Howes further points out that routes for the Lincolnshire have almost been agreed while the Fenland portion still need to be defined.

He said: “It would be hard to argue that the Fens part of the project has even got off the ground if this isn’t even being discussed.

“The only tiny ray of hope in this is ‘Project Hereward’ run by the East Anglian Waterways Association which is campaigning for the restoration of Horseway lock (between Chatteris and Manea).

“However far and away the most important step to reinvigorating the Fens Waterway Link has to be bringing pressure on the EA to take on the leadership role they are currently ducking.”

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