Page last updated at 16:41 GMT, Sunday, 29 March 2009 17:41 UK

Repaired canal officially opens

Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal drained
Engineers had to drain 16 miles of the canal to carry out repair work

A canal which burst its banks flooding part of a south Wales village has been formally reopened.

The breach in the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal sent a torrent of water streaming though the village of Gilwern, near Abergavenny.

Now, after 18 months and an investment of £8.5m, the canal is fully open to visitors again.

But it is estimated that a further £7.5m will be needed to secure its long-term future.

The breach in the canal in October 2007 badly damaged three homes in Gilwern, with eight people having to be rescued by the emergency services, as mud and water poured into their properties.

It also meant that a 16 mile stretch of the canal had to be completely drained by engineers as they began the arduous task of repairing the damage - and ensuring there would be no repeat of the incident.


British Waterways, which maintains 2,200 miles (3,540km) of canals and rivers in the UK, said the task posed a number of challenges.

More than 100 million gallons of water needed to be drained, 150 stranded boats moved, and 50,000 fish safely rescued and moved to new habitats.

Canal boat on Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal
The canal is estimated to contribute 17m a year through tourism

"Lengths of towpath have been repaired with traditional puddle clay using an innovative technique to further protect the bank," explained project manager, Mark Durham.

"The result is a watertight seal... lasting significantly longer than traditional techniques.

"We have also installed a monitoring system on some sections, enabling leakage to be identified even when it cannot be seen on the embankment."

The project also employed over 130 people, with much of the work carried out by local contractors.

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal is a fundamental part of the regional economy
Julie Sharman, British Waterways


British Waterways said its investment of £8.5m into the repairs was vital to getting the canal reopened.

Its Wales and Borders general manager, Julie Sharman added: "The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal is a fundamental part of the regional economy, so there was an unequivocal imperative to bring it back into full use at the earliest opportunity."

Research by British Waterways estimates that the canal contributes £17m every year in cash spent by visitors, securing almost 400 full time jobs.

Dating back to the 1790s, the Monmouthshire stretch reached into Newport, linking the canal system with 200 miles (332km) of horse-drawn tram roads to carry coal, iron and limestone.

But by 1910, trade had virtually ceased on the canal. In the 1950s a campaign was launched to restore the waterway, and in 1970 the canal from Brecon to Pontymoile was reopened.

The canal is now entirely navigable for 35 miles (56km), from Brecon all the way to Five Locks at Cwmbran.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan and the UK Waterways Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies officially reopened the repaired canal, with an event at the Goytre Wharf at Abergavenny on Sunday.

But British Waterways said that while the immediate future of the canal is secure, it is now looking to raise a further £7.5m to continue improving the attraction, and to "ensure the canal is there for future generations to enjoy".

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