Bid to re-water dry section of North Walsham and Dilham Canal

PUBLISHED: 09:15 20 September 2013 | UPDATED: 09:15 20 September 2013

Ebridge Mill, North Walsham.

Ebridge Mill, North Walsham. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

Enthusiasts are hoping to re-introduce water to a dry section of Norfolk’s only canal.

Plans for Ebridge Mill

A planning application asking for Ebridge Mill to be converted into mostly residential accommodation has been submitted to North Norfolk District Council.

Farmer Tim Briscoe wants to convert and extend the mill into nine permanent residential units and three holiday units.

The mill lies on the North Walsham to Dilham Canal just outside North Walsham, on the Happisburgh Road.

Mr Briscoe, of Dudwick House, Buxton, has asked the council to vary permission it had earlier granted allowing 12 units of holiday accommodation on the site.

In January 2003 an application to convert the mill into residential accommodation was refused on the grounds that it was located in the countryside, outside any area designated by the council for development.

The five-storey mill, built of red brick with a slate roof, was owned by the Cubitt and Walker family from 1869-1998 when it was sold to WL Duffield and Son and later closed.

The milling machinery was broken up in 1966 and the wheel removed in 1972.

Mr Briscoe declined to comment on his application.

They have sent a plan to the Environment Agency for re-watering a section of the North Walsham and Dilham Canal above Bacton Wood lock, which is itself above Bacton Wood Mill.

If the re-watering was permitted, supporters - including the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust and East Anglian Waterways Association (EAWA) - say it would provide benefits to farmers and wildlife, together with residents and visitors who could use it for leisure and pleasure.

But opponents believe dredging and clearance work already carried out on the canal have destroyed habitats and damaged wildlife.

The nine-mile canalisation of the River Ant, from Antingham to just above Wayford Bridge, at Smallburgh, was opened in 1826. The final wherry sailed it in 1934 and it fell into neglect.

Ebridge Mill, North Walsham.

Bacton Wood lock, one of six on the canal, has been virtually rebuilt by Laurie Ashton, whose Old Canal Company owns the waterway between Ebridge Mill lock and Swafield Bridge.

Mr Ashton hopes to restore Bacton Wood Mill to working order and re-establish the waterway as a sailing canal used by wherries.

But he lost an appeal last year against an Environment Agency “stop notice” banning him from further work on the canal between Ebridge Mill and Bacton Wood Mill.

David Revill, spokesman for the EAWA, said the canal was dry above Bacton Wood lock to the far side of Royston Bridge.

He claimed clearance work by EAWA volunteer work parties since 1998 had halted the destruction by nature of locks and other man-made structures on the canal.

Removing vegetation had also allowed water to run freely again in previously-choked sections, attracting more wildlife.

At the canal trust’s recent annual meeting members had heard that goldfinches, wagtails, reed warblers, swallows, marsh harriers, kingfishers, a marsh harrier, otter, water voles, water snails and dragonflies now visited, or lived in, the Ebridge section.

And at the trust’s Ebridge Mill lock island open day in the summer, nearly 200 extra people had signed an existing petition supporting work on the canal.

“Our first aim had been to alleviate flooding in North Walsham and its environs, which had become quite a big concern, and we have achieved that,” said Mr Revill.

They had also given wildlife a big boost and opened up walkways which were well used by the public.

“I’m pleased with the way things are going but I’m not pleased with the Environment Agency stop order,” Mr Revill added.

An agency spokesman said: “We appreciate that there is support for the aim of re-establishing navigation on the canal but there is also opposition.

“Over the last few months we have met with several interested parties to try to find a way forward that meets the needs of everyone in the community as well as the needs of the environment.”

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