1 The Mission
To restore to full working order as a navigable waterway, the derelict canal lying dormant between the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in Selly Oak and the Eastern Portal of the Lapal Tunnel in California.
This is to be done under the aegis of the Lapal Canal Trust (LCT) whose full Vision is the complete restoration of the entire ‘5-mile’ length of disused canal between Hawne Basin in Halesowen and the W&B in Selly Oak, via a new ‘Over The Top’ route to replace the derelict Lapal Tunnel.
When completed, this will have restored the ’11-mile’ Dudley Number TwoCanal to its former strategic importance as a Navigation along a levelwaterway, without locks.
The entire length of derelict line – now known as The Lapal Canal, since the formation of The Lapal Canal Trust in 1990 – conveniently divides into threerestoration Projects;
This Plan for the restoration of the Eastern Approach or Selly Oak Extension Canal is one ‘third’ of the full Vision.
It was prepared by the Eastern Approach Planning/Projects Group (EAPG; a sub-Committee of LCT) to indicate that restoration and subsequent preservation of the canal is a viable Mission.
However, all recommendations contained herein are made in good faith andare subject to the future outcomes of detailed engineering surveys, public consultation, and the availability of sufficient funds.
(The LCT has a complementary plan for the Halesowen canal, part of which – The Leasowes – has now been restored by Contractors, having officially commenced on Monday, 3rd March, 1997, but with extensive preparatory work conducted by LCT members prior to that date.)
2 The General Strategy : (“making ends meet”)
Translating this general strategy onto the Eastern Approach Project, a furtherthree principal sub-divisions of the incremental task have been identified, for restoration in the phased order;
These principal divisions are fully defined and further sub-divided (e.g. LE1N) in a separate table .
For the sake of Public Relations in the locality during restoration, these Eastern Approach sections, as they become navigable again, shall also be known by the erstwhile identity; The Selly Oak Extension Canal.
(When fully re-opened, the title “California Canal” might be considered.) –> The Eastern Strategy.
3 The Towpath Issue : (“a walk on the wild side”)
In its heyday as a working canal, passing then through a largely rural setting, the towpath was installed on the north side for the entire length between theW&B and the Eastern Portal. Given the subsequent development of housing, now on both sides but predominantly on the northern flank where many of the properties are below water level, there are several sections where a south-sidetowpath would achieve a two-fold benefit;
- Viewing restored canal as a backland ‘moat’, this will maximise the number of offside dwellings that benefit from “moat security” (and the likely increase in Property Value).
- Where the offside flank of a canal is an embankment above lower-lying properties, it may be reconstructed for a significantly greater mechanical integrity (than a towpath embankment) to minimise the risk of damage and water loss. (Also see the Flooding issue, below).
Where towpath re-siting takes place to meet these objectives, the north-side householders would be encouraged to ‘adopt’ their portion of embankment to prettify as they see fit (within reason), in the well-known tradition of offside property gardens.
3.1 The Castle Walkway
Since the canal became disused, a footpath has been established along the infill to serve the immediate locality as an access for pedestrians, and provide a route for ramblers and cyclists to the historic ruins of Weoley Castle – the Castle Walkway.
It is of considerable importance that this access is preserved and enhanced, while remaining friendly to wheel-chairs, prams and pedal cycles (but notmotor-cycles). Integration with the towpath of the restored canal would provide appropriate enhancement and the “wheels access” requirement can be achieved if all bridges have gradual-incline ramp approaches. Fortunately, in all cases, there is sufficient space for bridges to be designed to meet this requirement. Towpaths, being perfectly level and flat, are particularly friendly to wheelchair users.
3.2 Amenity and Safety
In its present condition, the dormant canal is failing to realise its full potential to be pleasant surroundings for the Castle Walkway. It is significantly overgrown with trees and shrubbery, and there is a proliferation of household and general rubbish (particularly in the Lodge Hill sections), some of which may already constitute a health hazard. Residents continually express their concern that this deterioration should not continue, and many would welcome canal restoration as an initiative to revitalise this backland.
Conversely, many of the adjoining and nearby properties include young families and the issue of water safety will be uppermost in the minds of many residents, now and in the future. The need to allay such fears is not unique to this particular canal restoration project, but the LCT is developing a Schools Liaison programme. The provision of lifebuoys at regular intervals along the towpath would be prudent. These could be co-sited with litter bins (and ramblers’ “you-are-here” maps).
When ‘switching’ the towpath in places, and reconstructing it elsewhere, it may be expedient to bury uncommitted ducting in anticipation that it may be adopted as Wayleave that accrues significant income. Already the W&B canal has a Telecommunications Fibre service installed beneath its towpath as part of a major UK “superhighway” provision. As that Network expands over the next decade or so, the entire Dudley No 2 Canal might be deemed to be a strategic branch and the income from such a Wayleave provision could be beneficial in offsetting some of the restoration costs (of the Lapal ‘half’ and the routine maintenance costs of the viable western ‘half’.).
4 The Flooding Issue : (“history must not repeat itself”)
In the decade following official abandonment in 1953, measures were taken to isolate various sections of the disused cut so that the present infilling could commence. This included stanks to prevent the loss of W&B water.
Unfortunately, during the summer of 1958 several days of continuously heavy rain drained into the cut from the south-side parkland. Concurrently, the Stonehouse Brook became swollen and overflowed its, then narrow, culvert into the disused channel. Having no longer an outlet into the W&B, the channel overflowed and flooded many of those houses in Reservoir Road which are below water-level. The flooding was eventually arrested by blowing-up a portion of the Battery Park length!
(We believe it happened on a Sunday but will defer to anyone who can provide the exact date ?)
Such is the trauma and disruption of flooding in a household that the event is still an issue for many residents, including those who have become householders since the event. Thus, the LCT has a major PR task in persuading all residents in properties below water-level that the re-instated and connected canal will have more than sufficient provision for excess-water outflow in equivalent exceptional circumstances. Indeed a restored and connected canal becomes a large capacity storm-water ‘drain’ in the event of a local and heavy (i.e. flash) storm, better than any system of drainage ducts.
(The restoration at The Leasowes now demonstrates several of these engineering measures.)
5 The Water Management Issue :
When restored, a previously derelict canal presents an additional load on existing water supplies due to its evaporation and seepage losses. Although modern restoration methods ensure that seepage is negligible, evaporation is inevitable (particularly in hot, dry weather). However, the restored Lapal Canal need not contribute to such losses if it incorporates the natural water supply of the Stonehouse Brook. At present, this brook crosses the cut in the Lodge Hill West section [LE5B], but flows (very approximately) alongside the cut from a southerly point quite near to the Tunnel’s Western Portal in California. In principle, it is possible to re-route the Brook’s present up-stream channel for its water to enter the canal at some convenient point (where its invert is at or above canal water-level), anywhere between the Portal and the present crossing. Provisions for the outflow of excess water (to prevent flooding, as noted above) would be retained as a weir where the existing north-side, down-stream gully departs under Burnel Road (and thence into Bourne Brook), well below canal water-level.
If this general principle is acceptable, it gives rise to several alternative options for the restoration of the Lodge Hill West and Weoley Castle sections, as detailed in the respective Phases of this Plan.
6 Restoration Phases :
The LCT-EAPG has identified the three major restoration Phases on the basis that the first – Selly Oak – will provide an amenity in its own right, until funding allows the subsequent Lodge Hill and then Weoley Castle restorations to occur. As an additional amenity in Selly Oak, the restored canal would enhance the ambience of the entire district and improve the visual aspect of Selly Oak Park by providing a water feature, as a haven for additional wildlife and new aquatic fowl, and an opportunity for fishing.
It is also proposed that restoration of the Selly Oak Park section should include the provision of short-stay moorings, on the south side adjoining the parkland, alongside the existing Castle Walkway which would double as the towpath. This will offer a picturesque and tranquil mooring for vessels travelling on the W&Bbetween Kings Norton Junction and Gas Street Basin. (That stretch of the W&Bis generally unremarkable, except for the sympathetic provision (in 1996) of a landscaped picnic area alongside The Vale in Edgbaston.)
It is envisaged that the principal mooring would be restricted to the length of restored canal flanking Selly Oak Park. Since it is NOT to become a residential mooring, it would be designated ‘short-stay only’ (e.g. 48-hours maximum), sufficient to allow access to Battery Park traders for shopping (e.g. food from Sainsbury’s) or dining-out (e.g. Deep Pan Pizza) or the several Pubs in the vicinity. A suitable length of the mooring at the eastern end, would be marked-up for priority use by boats having disabled or wheel-chair occupants.
As an additional boating amenity for the BCN, it seems likely that this facility will gradually increase the number of holiday-makers who include in their itinerary a cruise through Birmingham. It would certainly appear to be an ideal ‘first-night’ distance from the Alvechurch or Earlswood boatyards, while also being a convenient over-night location for boats cruising the popular Warwickshire Ring via the ‘high-level’ Birmingham option.
6.1 Interim Windings
The Phase-2 and Phase-3 Projects, for the restoration of the Lodge Hill and Weoley Castle sections, involve the substantial removal of infill and the provision of crossing bridges, etc. These challenges are significantly different from those in Phase-1 and until that restoration is undertaken, the Selly Oak ‘cul-de-sac’ section should be provided with a winding hole at the north-west boundary corner of Selly Oak Park. Later, when Phase-2 is completed, an interim winding hole at the Stonehouse Brook (or Bottetort Road) limit will allow boats to navigate the Lodge Hill section.
6.2 A Ceremonial Link (our “2020 vision”)
It is useful to consider that this “final approach” section may have a ceremonial role as the last section of the entire Lapal Canal Restoration Project to be re-opened to navigation. The juxtaposition of the then, newly restored old canal alongside the ancient site of Weoley Castle, with a Tunnel Portal nearby, is likely to offer significant PR value, whenever it happens in the Third Millennium.
7 Preparatory Actions – “PR” :
Each phased restoration project requires substantial funds which are not yet available. Many potential sources of funding are only made available to projects that are supported by local residents. Given the large number of houses which flank this canal, a substantial Public Relations exercise is being carried out, particularly towards those residents who were affected by (or have been told the effects of) the flood. The LCT has already attempted to make its intentions known and this effort is now being reinforced, following the ratification of this Plan (LCT Committee 97/5/8). The completion of the Halesowen restoration may be seen by some residents as a timely and positive ‘statement of intent’, whereas others are likely to perceive it as a distant activity (in another District) having little bearing on their locality.
While background work is being done to acquire Leases or rights of access, higher profile canvassing is required. To this end, the LCT has earmarked a sum of money to ‘pump-prime’ a Selly Oak Awareness Campaign. Along with door-to-door leafleting, this campaign should also include the deployment of canal-side notices of intention and, perhaps, the interim removal of rubbish. The LCT-EAPG has tentative plans to seek the involvement of companies, principally those on the Battery Park Trading Estate, who may view the restored canal as an amenity that may increase their business opportunities, albeit indirectly.
7.1 Recipients of Plan
Part of the rationale for constructing this preliminary Plan, and pledging to revise and maintain it as an “organic” document reflecting the latest developments, is that it may be offered to the Managing Directors of local Companies and the leaders of other interested parties in and for the locality. These will include Residents’ Associations, “Friends” of local amenities (e.g. Selly Oak Park, Weoley Castle), Neighbourhood Watches, Youth Groups, Schools, Councillors, MPs, and to private individuals who join the Trust (as part of their Welcome Pack).
7.1.1 Revision Cycles (This paragraph is only relevant to readers of paperversions.)
It is envisaged that major revisions and re-issues will occur at six-monthly intervals. Therefore, if any publication Date (yy/mm/dd) is more than six months ago, it must be assumed that this version has been superseded. Updated copies may be obtained from the Lapal Canal Trust or the Internet : from which Web Site these paper pages were printed.
8 Subsequent Developments :
Following the publication and dissemination of our Strategy and general Plan for the Eastern Approach canal, the Trust has received reassurance from Birmingham City Council that the Line is protected in the current UDP. It is equally pleased to record that the Selly Oak Ward Sub-Committee has acknowledged (98/9/23) the desirability of this restoration and Resolved to ensure that no encroachments be permitted. Similarly, Birmingham City Council has hosted a sequence of meetings to investigate and confirm the desirability of restoration.