By chris mallett email@example.com
Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for a stretch of a Derbyshire waterway to be cleaned up so it can be used by tourists and school children.
Friends of Cromford Canal has more than 650 signatures from people urging Derbyshire County Council to help foot the estimated £200,000 bill for dredging of the three-quarters-of-a-mile stretch.
Chairman of the group Patrick Morriss said the charity wanted to use the canal to run a horse-drawn boat during school holidays. At other times the boat would be used as a “floating classroom” for school parties.
The targeted part of the waterway runs between its Cromford terminus and the point where it meets the start of the High Peak Trail. The county council said it was already working with the Friends to submit a funding bid to help with the clean-up work but would “consider the petition in due course”.
But Mr Morriss said the bid for Leader funding, which comes from Defra and the European Union, would amount to only £50,000. He said: “Even if we got that money, we would still be looking for funding from elsewhere.”
Mr Morris said the Friends wanted the section of canal cleared by spring 2012, as dredging needed to be done in winter so as not to disturb wildlife such as water voles. The cleared area of canal would combine well with plans to create a new visitor centre at the Grade-I listed Cromford Mill.
He said: “Visitors would be able to come down from the mill to see a working canal and it would get them into a part of the Derwent Valley which they perhaps wouldn’t normally visit, by horse-drawn boat. We don’t just want to have a boat there for the holidays, we also want to have it there more permanently as a floating classroom.”
“It would be a trip boat on high days and holidays and an educational resource at other times.”
Mr Morriss said he understood that the £200,000 estimated cost would be a lot for the county council, which has said it must make about £84.4m of savings in the next four financial years. He added: “The canal is in the only World Heritage Site in the East Midlands.
“The more there is on offer for visitors, the more likely they are to spend the night and improve economic activity in the area.”
A county council spokeswoman confirmed the authority was putting together the bid for the Leader funding. She said: “We are still waiting to identify what the full cost would be. “The £200,000 figure is a very rough estimate.”
The Friends of Cromford Canal aims to make the waterway’s full 17-mile length – from Langley Mill to Cromford and Pinxton – navigable by boat.