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A big news day

Three major waterway news stories have broken in a single day.

Last night, Oxford City Council's planning committee decided to refuse permission for a housing development at the Castlemill Boatyard

British Waterways' decision to sell the site for redevelopment, halting its previous use as a boatyard, aroused much local opposition. Following a dramatic eviction last May (pictured), the site had been boarded up pending plans by developers Spring Residential - which have now been refused. The campaigners are jubilant, but Spring have not yet commented.

Big names including author Philip Pullman joined the campaign, comparing the housing plans to "finding a bird's nest and throwing a brick into it". At the committee meeting, the complainants objected to the lack of a boatyard, the shortage of affordable housing, and the appearance of the planned buildings.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, MPs were discussing waterway funding in a debate secured by Lichfield MP (and narrowboater) Michael Fabricant. You can read the transcript here.

Waterway Minister Jonathan Shaw refused to agree with Mr Fabricant's description of previous Minister Barry Gardiner as "a nincompoop", and implied that DEFRA would continue as the department responsible for British Waterways; but on future grant, he said "I am hopeful that the budget for BW will be broadly around flat cash for a three-year period".

Flat cash is Government-speak for "no rise, even inflation", making this not the worst that could be achieved though by no means the best. The IWA has already responded, with Chairman John Fletcher saying "I was pleased that the minister was able to confirm that he did not expect alleged further cuts to Defra’s budget to have a deteriorative effect on  navigation authorities".

Finally, the much-awaited result was announced for the Big Lottery Fund's People's 50 Million contest (also known as Living Landmarks) - and the good news is that a waterway-related project is to scoop the cash.

Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, has won £50m for its Connect2 project. This comprises 79 schemes, including several new bridges over waterways and towpath improvements: a replacement for Riversdale Swingbridge on the Weaver, removing the first blockage on the Melton Mowbray Navigation, a new bridge at Diglis Lock in Worcester, towpath improvements on the Bridgewater, and several more. The decision was made by a TV-sponsored vote - and of the four projects competing, the Sustrans scheme won 42% of the vote.

The decision is a disappointment for the Black Country Urban Park, whose bid also promised great things for their local canals; and for the two other contenders, Sherwood Forest and the Eden Project. But there'll be some very happy faces in Northwich, Melton Mowbray, and elsewhere tonight!

Wednesday 12 December  | Richard Fairhurst  | 3.11pm, Wednesday 12 December 2007

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