Hopes of restoring glory of the Gipping
BARGES and boats could be set to return to a Suffolk waterway as a riverside town takes its first steps in giving the eyesore river a makeover.Making the river navigable again is the long-term hope that lies behind the £100,000 scheme which will reclaim, for recreational use, a two-mile section of the Gipping that runs through Stowmarket.
By James Fraser
BARGES and boats could be set to return to a Suffolk waterway as a riverside town takes its first steps in giving the eyesore river a makeover.
Making the river navigable again is the long-term hope that lies behind the £100,000 scheme which will reclaim, for recreational use, a two-mile section of the Gipping that runs through Stowmarket.
Residents of the town will be able to stroll alongside the Gipping from the Stowupland Road bridge to the Station Road bridge in landscaped and accessible surroundings all year round.
At the moment the stretch through the town looks run-down and strewn with litter.
After townsfolk put forward their ideas to renovate the town's historic link with Ipswich last September, a committee was formed to push forward the plan – given the title of the Pickerel Project.
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They are now looking for pledges of help and cash from individuals and companies to raise the £100,000 needed to give the stretch a face-lift.
It is hoped that within two years a walkway, which will be wheelchair accessible, will be put in along the bank with features including lighting, new fencing and new railings so the river can be viewed from each bridge at either end of the stretch.
"We want to open the river and the path all the way to Ipswich," said Ron Snell, chairman of the Pickerel Project committee, who is also a Stowmarket town councillor.
"We want this area to be the starting point and to be an real amenity for everyone, but particularly the disabled and mothers and children."
He added that canoeing, boating and other activities including fishing could return to the stretch just beyond the bridges.
"It is also important to note that this is not a council venture," said Mr Snell. "It is a committee run by the people for the people."
There has been some council involvement, however.
Mid Suffolk officials, led by Ralph Barnett, unveiled the plans for the project and Stowmarket Town Council gave sponsorship for a set of artist's impressions of what the Gipping may look like to be drawn up.
The scheme has the backing of many groups who are keen to get on the river again.
Chard Wadley, chairman of the Ipswich branch of the Inland Waterways Association, said that he fully supported the plan.
His organisation has just completed a painstaking brick-by-brick renovation of Bosmere Lock, near Needham Market, as part of a plan to return the river's 15 locks to the former glories of its heyday.
From 1790 it was the main transport link to take raw materials from Ipswich docks up to industries along the Gipping Valley. By the 1920s road and rail had taken over and the river fell into disuse.
"We would like to see the whole river completely open to navigation and for everyone – for anglers, walkers and cyclists," said Mr Wadley.
The first steps will be taken in Stowmarket. Baroness Ros Scott, county councillor and patron of the project, said it was important that the river became part of the town again.
"Rivers are important to help unite towns rather than drive them apart – a river is a great facility for towns.
"Towns that don't have one always seem to build water features. We have a natural river and it must be enhanced so people can enjoy it again."