09:00AM, Friday 29 July 2016
It’s taken about a decade of planning and lobbying, shifted hundreds of tons of earth and seen tracts of the town centre ripped up – but the Maidenhead Waterways project is finally taking shape.
Since breaking ground on a temporary dam in February last year, construction has sprung on apace, with the team behind the project confident of completing the first section of the overall vision by the end of 2017.
This comprises improvements running the length of York Stream, from Blackamoor Lane, where York Stream and Moor Cut separate, down to Green Lane, where they join together again.
This has been the most high profile part, cutting straight through the centre of town and forming a major feature of the Shanly Homes Chapel Arches development, which is due to offer more than 200 homes by the time it is finished.
The original dam diverted water down the normally dry Moor Cut, allowing York Stream to dry out for work to commence.
From the north, passing underneath Saint Cloud Way and working down as far as the Hines Meadow car park, channels have been widened and deepened, with embankments landscaped and footpaths installed.
This is expected to be finished in a matter of months, with a few alterations to footbridges and waiting for concrete foundations to set the only complicating factors.
At Hines Meadow, the initiative is handed over to the Shanly group, which is waiting on final confirmation before it begins to demolish the lower section of the car park and the High Street Colonnade.
This will make way for a new dev-elopment compared to a mini version of Reading’s Oracle centre and will also provide a direct line of sight all the way down York Stream.
On the other side of the road, the first two sections of Chapel Arches, known as the Picture House and Chapel Wharf, are beginning to take shape, with supporting walls for their underground car parks conveniently doubling as embankments for the project and creating a basin to host boats and other craft.
The work is also the first major renovation of the bridge, which gives Chapel Arches its name, since 1825.
The high-end waterside housing that the Shanly scheme will create is a prime example of the intertwining of the two programmes, with neither quite being feasible without the other.
Although the £5m pricetag for the York Stream arm of the waterways looked pie-in-the-sky to some when first mooted, in the context of the estimated £1bn investment in Maidenhead’s regeneration, it starts to look like a drop in a very profitable ocean.
Speaking about the project, Richard Davenport, chairman of the Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group, said: “The waterways project is central to the transformation of Maidenhead.
“It’s the opportunity to add value – everyone wants to do it. It’s not easy but we’re really turning a corner.
“As a resident of about 32 years I’ve got children and grandchildren living in the town and I would love to see the town reach its potential.”
He added: “Everyone involved is doing this for nothing and we’ve been doing it for nearly 10 years now and it’s huge for us to have got to the point where people are now saying to us ‘we know what you’re trying to do’.”
Heading south towards the library, the scope of the scheme becomes much more obvious, with an amphitheatre-style public space under construction and banking works almost complete – the only thing missing is the water.
Beyond York Road, where work as far as the railway bridge has been completed, wildlife has started to return as the section gradually fills with rainwater.
Those in favour of the scheme have bristled at accusations it has destroyed nature.
Instead, they point to the previously dry Moor Cut, which is now teeming with life since the dam directed water down it once again.
It will have to be drained when the time comes, but to supporters it shows how fast nature can take hold once habitats have been restored.
Down to Green Lane, work on the final section is due to start next month, with completion targeted for March.
Finally, a weir, that will raise the water level along the length of York Stream to 1.3m (4ft 3ins), is hoped to be finished by the end of 2017.
Timeline for the first phase of bringing back the water
The planning permission granted for the waterways in 2012 covers the first phase of the project.
This is the town centre ‘ring’, made up of York Stream and Moor Cut, and is intended to restore Maidenhead’s ‘riverside setting’ by clearing water courses, creating embankments and towpaths and allowing access for small boats.
The first and most high profile stage of this was the draining of York Stream to allow enlargement and other improvements to be made between the A4 and the Great Western Railway line.
This began in February last year with the installation of a temporary dam where York Stream and Moor Cut split near Blackamoor Lane to divert water down Moor Cut.
This dried out York Stream, allowing construction to begin.
The second stage will see work to York Stream carried out north of the A4 and south of the railway line where it meets Moor Cut. This would also involve the construction of a weir near Green Lane, which is hoped to be completed by the end of next year.
The third and final stage will see water diverted down York Stream once more, allowing clearances to Moor Cut.
Future phases of the project remain on paper until the completion of the first, with the sustainability of the venture as a whole emphasised by Maidenhead Waterways.
It is hoped, however, that future phases will eventually allow larger boats into the town centre.
The restoration project section by section
From near Blackamoor Lane, where York Stream and Moor Cut separate, as far as the Saint Cloud Way bridge. Expected to be finished in October.
From Saint Cloud Way bridge to the exit bridge of Hines Meadow car park, off Crown Lane. Also expected to be finished in October.
From the exit bridge of Hines Meadow car park to Maidenhead High Street. This section is being done by the Shanly Group and is dependent on the firm’s construction schedule, which involves the demolition of the Colonnade.
The Basin. From the High Street to Maidenhead Library. Expected to be finished by the end of November.
From the library to York Road. Due to be fully excavated and lined by February 2017.
York Road to the railway line. Complete.
Section G and H
From the railway line to Green Lane. Work expected to start next month and finish by the end of March 2017.
Volunteers get stuck in to help waterways
Although completing the immediate project remains the focus for the team behind the waterways, serious consideration is already being given to how best to keep it in working order once it’s completed.
As well as keeping embankments in the town centre looking pristine, work will also be needed further upstream to ensure water can keep flowing through the whole of the system.
With this in mind, volunteer teams have already been out working on channel clearances.
On Monday, July 3, a team from tech giant Adobe, which has an office in Maidenhead, was out at Ray Mill Road West to tackle a fallen tree.
The group of about 16 volunteers donned waders and took up hand saws to cut back the obstruction.
Kim Kerry-Tyerman, organiser of the Adobe group, said: “Our Maidenhead team had a great time teaming up, working in the stream and getting to know other volunteers in our community.
“We’d like to thank Maidenhead Waterways for their leadership and the opportunity to do our part.”
Visit www.maidenheadwaterways.org to find out more about getting involved.
Find out more
For anyone interested in finding out more, the chairman of the Maidenhead Waterways Restoration Group, Richard Davenport, will be running two hour-long workshops to explain the project.
He will be at the Friends of Maidenhead pop-up store in the Nicholsons Centre on Saturday, August 6, at 10.30am and again at 11.30am.
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