Ambitious ideas to make more of the River Little Ouse between Thetford and Brandon were published today.
A ‘waterspace study’ commissioned by Thetford Town and Breckland District Councils suggests everything from improving footpaths to reopening the river for navigation into the heart of Thetford.
It was launched this morning, supported by the town’s MP Elizabeth Truss, the Little Ouse and Thet Partnership and the Fen Edge Rivers Landscape Partnership and will be seen as a document offering guidance and encouragement on greater use of the river.
The idea of a study came from town councillor Stuart Wright, whose great grandfather was one of the last lightermen on the river which was once used to bring coal to Thetford and raw materials for the fertiliser plant and take out the produce of the riverside maltings.
Cllr Wright said: “The death knell was the railway coming, so there wasn’t the need for commercial traffic which meant there wasn’t the money from the tolls to pay for maintenance.”
He accepts consultants Richard Glenn Associates’ view that reopening navigation above Brandon Lock is a long term project but lots can be done now.
“That needs sizable investment and isn’t going to happen overnight,” he said. “What we can do in the meantime is to make more use of the river.”
The report suggests cheaper things including providing ‘canoe porterage’ routes round weirs and locks and opening footpaths along the river from Thetford to the forest would encourage greater use.
Cllr Wright added: “It’s not just about what happens on the river itself – it’s creating the links from the town to the forest. People come to Thetford Forest from as far as Norwich and Cambridge but local people don’t tend to use it because you can’t easily walk from Thetford.”
The study recognises the only safe route across the A11 to the forest is along the river, but the footpaths are poor.
The study suggests three waterspace development stages. Stage one concentrates on Thetford’s ‘riverside core’ and promoting greater connectivity to and use of the river, including things like licensing hire of canoes and punts.
Stage two would improve access to the river corridor with improved footpaths and canoe routes. The report stresses the sensitive ecology of the area and calls for more work on potential disturbance to rare ground nesting birds, such as the nightjar, woodlark and stone curlew.
Stage three would look at reopening navigation between Brandon and Thetford, including water taxis and ‘park and glide’ services from out of town carparks.