New Chelmsford lock plans “most practical, realistic and affordable solution”

A £6million plan for a single lock next to new automatic floodgates in Chelmsford, allowing boats to navigate upstream, is likely to be the most practical, realistic and affordable solution, Chelmsford City Council will hear.

The current set up is essential to maintain water levels in Chelmsford – without the floodgates water levels in the rivers through the city centre would be very low and at times absent from the river channels.

Finding a solution to retaining water levels in the city centre rivers has been identified as an urgent priority.

This has become even more pressing given the Environment Agency, which operates the gates, has indicated it can no longer justify the continued maintenance of the gates.

There has long been a desire to allow boats to navigate up through Chelmsford and beyond – the automatic floodgates currently block this.

One proposal to create a ‘canal cut’ between Springfield Basin and the River Chelmer, while retaining the flood gates, appears no longer to be the favoured approach.

Instead a system that combines the ability to retain water in the rivers, as well as providing improved navigation to upstream areas, was likely to be the “most practical, realistic and affordable solution”, the council’s cabinet will hear next week.

This would mean replacing the existing automatic weir gates with new automatic weir gates and building lock gates on the north bank of the river Chelmer alongside the automatic gates.

The work has been estimated to cost £6 million and last around two years.

The council is now planning to spend £107,000 on structural investigations to ascertain the level of work that could be needed.

The replacement of the automatic floodgates and the new lock is part of the wider regeneration of Chelmer Waterside, which has been identified in the Chelmsford Local Plan as a strategic growth area.

The area has the potential capacity to accommodate a further 970 new homes within the new Chelmer Waterside neighbourhood.

The city council has secured up to £10.7million from the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund to tackle constraints in developing the site which has problems of access, land contamination and the presence of gas mains.

What the council has made clear is the new lock and replacement flood gates must be carefully considered as part of the whole development, which starts with a new access road and bridge.

A planning application for that is scheduled for later this year.

A conclusion as part of a report to be discussed next week at cabinet said: “The retaining of water levels in the city centre rivers was clearly identified as an urgent [the main] priority, whilst improvements to navigation were also identified as a priority [linking the upper and lower Chelmer, thus providing navigation opportunity into the city centre].

“A detail condition survey of the existing water retention structure and further feasibility work is required to progress these proposals into a costed detail design scheme as the basis of the work needed to assemble funding to implement this as the city council’s preferred option.

“It is proposed that the director of public places in consultation with the Waterways Working Group is authorised to commission further detail feasibility work and engage with the Environment Agency and other relevant parties on these matters on the city council’s behalf.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter