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'Grand Western Canal bank breach was a disaster waiting to happen'

By Mid Devon Gazette  |  Posted: February 19, 2013

Grand Western Canal breach in November

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THE potential failure of the water management system on the Grand Western Canal was discussed months before the devastating breach in November, a councillor says.

Anglers, businesses and other custodians of the 199-year-old waterway had previously debated their concerns over the possibility of a disaster.

Welcoming Devon County Council's decision to invest £3m in repairing, restoring and modernising the canal, Councillor Des Hannon said "important lessons were learnt" following the embankment collapse last which has left two incomplete sections of the waterway.

Cllr Hannon, who represents Tiverton East and chairs the Grand Western Canal Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) – which acts as a liaison for all parties which manage or have an interest in the waterway – said: "The JAC has talked about this issue for quite some time before it happened. It was something that was systematic, things have been developing which didn't make something like this inevitable but did mean it could happen."

Following heavy rain on November 21, water levels in canal are estimated to have risen by 25cm within hours and part of the swing embankment, which rises nearly 60 feet from surrounding fields at Halberton, collapsed, resulting in a mile-long section of canal being closed since the incident.

At a meeting of the county council's cabinet last week, Cllr Stuart Hughes said he had been "very impressed by the passion of the community" to see the canal restored which had seen people in Halberton and surrounding villages pledging money towards the Save Our Canal fund.

Council leader Cllr John Hart reiterated the authority's intention to complete the work so the canal can host the Inland Waterways Association National Trailboat Festival which is due to take place in May 2014.

Cllr Hart said he believed everyone in Devon would be praying for a dry hot summer in 2013.

Initial estimates for repair costs were as much as £5m. The council's design aims to use as much of the existing material as possible and the proposed cost of restoring the embankment with studies to improve the infrastructure now totals £3m.

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