A major milestone in the regeneration of the Stroudwater Canals has been reached as a newly-constructed railway bridge was officially opened and named to cheers from canal volunteers, canal partners and local residents.
The bridge at Ocean, near Stonehouse, was installed and a section of canal reinstated by Network Rail last Christmas.
Today (Monday, May 23) Network Rail Chair Sir Peter Hendy CBE and Deputy Lord-Lieutenant for Gloucestershire Karen Morgan OBE joined Stroud District Council Leader Doina Cornell and Cotswold Canals Trust Chair Jim White on board the Cotswold Boatmobility boat Zephyrus at Stonehouse Court Hotel Canalside Lawn, before cutting a ribbon across the canal and declaring the bridge open.
Ms Morgan was then invited to unveil a commemorative plaque which renamed the bridge ‘Ocean Jubilee Bridge’ in honour of Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Zephyrus was followed by a flotilla of Cotswold Canals Connected partnership boats under the bridge.
A team of 150 operatives from Network Rail and its contractor Alun Griffiths worked around-the-clock on behalf of the Cotswold Canals Connected partnership to replace the bridge while the railway was closed for seven days between Christmas and New Year 2021.
The previous railway bridge had a narrow opening that was too small for boats to pass through, and its replacement is a key part of the work to connect the canal to the national waterway network.
The Ocean railway bridge project took more than two years of planning, which included casting the new bridge sections on site – the largest of which weighed 64 tonnes, catching and relocating thousands of fish and draining a 230 metre section of the canal.
Cllr Cornell said: “This is an exciting achievement in the vision to make Stroud and Stonehouse canal towns once again. The Cotswold Canals Connected project is already bringing enormous benefits to our communities, economy, environment and the health and wellbeing of our residents.
“This project would not have been possible without the work by the many volunteers and the generous support of National Lottery players.”
Sir Peter said: “We’d like to thank the local community – and in particular the residents of Court Farm Mews, Avenue Terrace and Beards Mill – for being such great neighbours throughout the entire project. They were especially patient and understanding during the noise and disruption over the Christmas and New Year period. I was delighted to be invited to open the new bridge and I wish everyone the best of luck with the remainder of this remarkable restoration project.”
Jim White, Chair of Trustees Cotswold Canals Trust said: “Cotswold Canals Trust is 50 years old this year, and this milestone add grease to our wheels. Together in partnership we will be navigable to the UK waterways by 2025, we will increase tourism and leisure for the Stroud district, we will offer a green blue corridor that improves health and wellbeing for our communities and we will educate people about the build and natural heritage of the Stroud valleys. Looking around Stroud now you can see what canal regeneration can deliver. Every penny raised by our partnership, will deliver that high objective, bringing job creation, economic recovery, and improved mental and physical Health and Wellbeing, to Stroud and the surrounding district, in these difficult times. Please continue to support the restoration in any way you can, through gifts of time, money or skills.”
Mrs Morgan said: “‘On the occasion of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and on Her Majesty’s behalf, I had great pleasure in naming this bridge Ocean Jubilee Bridge. This is a wonderful project and a fitting testament to the passion, persistence, and partnership of Cotswold Canals Connected.”
A team of canal volunteers has replaced the towpath between Ocean swing bridge and Ocean Jubilee Bridge. It will remain closed while the source of water seeping from the ground near the swing bridge is being investigated; however it will open for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend to allow people to walk under the new bridge. Another closure of the towpath will be required in the coming months to allow further restoration works to the canal and towpath between Ocean and Bonds Mill. Notices advising of closures will be placed along the towpath and on the Cotswold Canals Connected social media accounts and website.
Cotswold Canals Connected is a partnership of organisations led by Stroud District Council and the Cotswold Canals Trust which are restoring the canal network. Phase 1A, which is now complete, restored the section between Thrupp and Stonehouse. Phase 1B, which includes this project, will restore a further four-mile section between Stonehouse and Saul Junction providing a connection to the national waterway network.
The partnership is committed to significant outcomes for wildlife, people and communities, and our canal heritage.
Find out more about Cotswold Canals Connected at www.cotswoldcanalsconnected.org and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.