Full navigation plans for Stour are sunk

A CONTROVERSIAL £12million plan to open a 24-mile stretch of the River Stour to full-navigation – going through the heart of Constable Country – has been axed.

A CONTROVERSIAL £12million plan to open a 24-mile stretch of the River Stour to full-navigation – going through the heart of Constable Country – has been axed.

The influential River Stour Trust charity had wanted the famous stretch of river, immortalised by the works of Gainsborough and Constable, reverted to it historic past by making it possible to sail from Sudbury to the sea.

But after months of widespread consultation, the Environment Agency has announced only minor developments will take place along the river, which runs from Sudbury to Cattawade and divides the counties of Suffolk and Essex.

Last night, the news was described as a "missed opportunity" by the Trust, but was welcomed by the Dedham Vale Society.

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The agency had been considering five options for the future management of the river – ranging from doing nothing, to a £12.6m scheme that involved major lock restorations and would open up the waterway to full navigation from Sudbury out to the North Sea.

But it has now decided the picturesque scenes along the river must not be put at risk and only slight improvements will be introduced for users of light craft, such as canoes, small sailing craft and rowing boats.

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These developments are likely to cost around £213,000 to improve canoe portages around sluices and weirs and improvements to slipway facilities to enhance access to the river.

EA bosses envisage the move will generate an extra 2,600 visitors a year to the river, while still managing to protect its sensitive environment.

The decision comes after a major survey recently carried out by the EA – in which local authorities, angling, conservation and recreation groups were all consulted – revealed the majority where against the full navigation option.

EA's waterway manager John Adams said: "I am pleased that we have been able to reach a decision that respects the sensitive environment of the River Stour, much of which lies within the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whilst at the same time improving recreational access to this delightful river.

"The priority now will be to discuss with local interest groups precisely what this decision will mean to those with an interest in the river. In the short term we will develop a programme of improvements on the river to support the aspirations for improved use by sail and manually propelled craft."

Despite its decision the agency agreed that possible developments on the river for steam and electrically powered boats should be discussed again in the future.

Last night, a conservation group said the decision would protect one of the region's premier beauty spots – but a river charity described it as a missed opportunity.

Parts of the river flows through the Dedham Vale, where glorious chocolate-box scenes make it one of the country's smallest designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty(AONB).

Paul Gallifant, spokesman for the Dedham Vale Society, said: "Although we would have preferred the option of doing nothing, we welcome this decision.

"The developments will be minimal, which is only right as it has been almost 100 years since the river was a navigable waterway. Today the river is more or less the way it was in the 1800s and that's how we want to keep it because it is one of the most beautiful areas in the region.

"Even outside the AONB there is beautiful scenery all along the river and we don't want to see large concrete locks and roads ruining it."

He added: "Large modern craft would ruin the tranquil image of the river and we don't want any more boats on the waters."

But the River Stour Trust, based at the Granary at Sudbury, was disappointed by yesterday's decision.

Charity secretary David Rayner said: "By refusing to open the river we are preventing people from enjoying some of the most beautiful views of the valley, it would be fantastic to see them from a boat along the river.

"In the current political climate, when people are anxious about flying, we should be doing more to attract people from within Britain to the area. Opening up the river to full navigation would attract more people, which would also provide an economic boost to our shops and businesses, so I think this a missed opportunity."

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