Fresh fight looms on river's future

By Patrick LowmanA CHARITY is to go on with its campaign to open a 24-mile stretch of the River Stour to full navigation, despite seeing the plan already axed.

By Patrick Lowman

A CHARITY is to go on with its campaign to open a 24-mile stretch of the River Stour to full navigation, despite seeing the plan already axed.

The Environment Agency threw out the idea earlier this year of a £12.6million restoration scheme to allow full navigation from Sudbury, through Constable Country and on to the North Sea.

It was considering five options for the future management of the river – immortalised by the works of Gainsborough and Constable – and decided only slight improvements should be introduced for the users of light crafts, such as canoes and rowing boats.

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The decision disappointed the influential River Stour Trust, which had spentd months campaigning for the river to be opened up to full navigation to allow boats to sail from Sudbury to Cattawade.

But the trust has outlined in the latest edition of its journal, Lock Lintel, the tactics it hopes will eventually secure victory in the battle to open the river to full navigation.

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The trust is hoping to use the Environment Agency's decision to make improvements for light crafts will help highlight the benefits of full navigation and it hopes to start discussions over allowing more electric-propelled boats to use the river.

In the journal, the trust's chairman, Anthony Platt, said: "If implemented properly, even this will make a significant difference and will strengthen the cause for the full navigation which we are seeking.

"At the same time we hope to begin discussions soon with the Environment Agency and the Electric Boat Association to explore the possibilities for more use of electric propulsion on the Stour."

The trust also hopes it can influence the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley Project, a joint committee set up by councils to look after the interests of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that the river runs through.

The group is currently forming its management plan and Mr Platt said: "We have made strong representations during this process, including stressing the need for them to see the river as the focus of the valley and to draw on the best practices from elsewhere, particularly with regard to sustainable management and providing access to the area for the benefit of everyone, not just a privileged few."

However, Suffolk county councillor and a member of the Dedham Vale Society, Selwyn Pryor, labelled the full navigation plan as pointless and impractical.

"It is totally unreasonable for the trust to keep talking about Nimbys because we haven't got anything against small craft and canoes using the river, but we just don't want to see its natural beauty and flow destroyed by the building of locks," he said.

"There are so many twists and turns in the river, opening it to full navigation would be impractical. We will do everything we can to stop this beautiful stretch of water being turned into nothing more than a man-made canal."

When announcing its decision in February, the Environment Agency said only slight improvements should be made to ensure the picturesque scenes along the river were not put at risk.

Those developments will cost about £213,000 to improve canoe portages around sluices and weirs and enhancing slipway facilities to provide better access to the river.

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