The transformation of Maidenhead

PUBLISHED: 16:31 10 February 2016 | UPDATED: 16:31 10 February 2016

How it was: punts on their way from Maidenhead to ‘Ascot Sunday’ in Edwardian times ©Amoret Tanner / Alamy

How it was: punts on their way from Maidenhead to ‘Ascot Sunday’ in Edwardian times ©Amoret Tanner / Alamy

© Amoret Tanner / Alamy Stock Photo

Jan Raycroft pops down to the town beside the Thames to find out how the ‘’Little Venice’ dream is becoming reality

There couldn’t have been a better place than Maidenhead for my granddaughter to live in 2015. You see, she’s obsessed with diggers, cranes and building sites in the same way other little girls squeal at ponies and kittens. Well, to be honest, Bracknell would give Maidenhead a run for its money.

Those who have become used to a town centre undergoing major but necessary upheaval for 21st century living will know what I mean. The regeneration project is transforming Maidenhead.

For some it will mean new homes and Crossrail whizzing them to the City. But for others, and bless their determination to stick with a long term project that might have sank during a recession, the first big moment will be when residents and visitors can take to small boats to enjoy once neglected areas of the town centre, possibly towards the end of 2017.

But the ultimate objective is to see Bray Cut cleared and the construction of a lock which would allow larger boats to ‘pop into town’ from the Thames. Imagine that… well some did, and others brought into the vision some 10 years ago during Maidenhead Civic Society’s Great Debate on the future of the town centre.

So a decade in the planning (some would have said dreaming at the start), the Maidenhead Waterways project has gone from a campaign to reality, to the great credit of the team of volunteers behind it, currently led by chairman Richard Davenport.

Here we have a town riddled with potentially pretty little waterways, and yet policy for much of the last century sometimes saw them more as a nuisance factor, to be covered up or swerved round as building work took place. Fortunately Maidenhead also contains people in its homes, businesses and civic offices capable of imagining an attractive waterways system complete with a navigable ‘ring’ right in the centre. After all, these dried up or neglected waterways were once lakes and small rivers.

We’re not there yet, more money and support will be needed, but a decision of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead’s Cabinet Regeneration Sub-Committee in December to back the next stage of the project with another £3m of funding means things are rapidly moving in the right direction.

The latest money will allow Stage 2 of the project, completion of the York Stream arm of the waterway, including a weir at Green Lane, to begin immediately after Stage 1 works complete in the spring. This will open up the York Stream section to those who will make the most of it: walkers, cyclists and small craft.

It follows the £2.1 million for stage one of the works, authorised by the council in 2014, for work now close to completion above the railway line, beside Maidenhead Library and up to the Shanly Chapel Arches development.

Cllr Simon Dudley, chairman of the regeneration sub-committee which approved the funding, says: “The council is committed to transforming Maidenhead and we are backing Maidenhead Waterways with the cash to continue to move this exciting project forward.”

His colleague, Cllr Philip Love sees the waterways project as a catalyst for revitalising the town centre: “It will be an extremely important feature as it will create a waterside setting and culture for all our present and future developments. This has proved to be very successful in other towns. Eating, drinking, shopping and living alongside this waterway will bring extra life and vitality to our town centre, and confirm that Maidenhead is actually becoming a great place to live and work.”

The new funding means the contractor, Greenford, can continue seamlessly from stage one to stage two, avoiding the costs of demobilising and then remobilising. A separate specialist contractor will be appointed to build the weir.

Cllr Derek Wilson explains: “Greenford have proved able and reliable contractors so we are happy to continue working with them. This means we can be confident of the quality of the work, and will save on recruitment and mobilisation costs.”

Even with the support of the council and sponsors such as Summerleaze, The Louis Baylis Charitable Trust (Maidenhead Advertiser) and the Michael Shanly Foundation, funding has not been an easy matter. For instance, attempts to achieve national and European funding have not been successful to date, and Maidenhead Waterways Group (MW) and the council’s funding advisory partner, Our Community Enterprise – Development and Funding, are planning a formal appeal with the objective of securing public and business donations towards the costs of the Moor Cut arm of the project. The appeal is expected to be launched later this year and the cost of completing the Moor Cut channel works, excluding the lock, is estimated at £5-6m.

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