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Dudley Tunnel £3.3m visitor centre gets go-ahead

Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has granted planning permission to the Dudley Canal Trust to build The Portal Project, a £3.3million education, exhibition and heritage centre at the northern entrance to the 200-year-old canal tunnel and limestone mines.

The two-storey building will highlight the Black Country’s canal based industrial heritage and will be the most up to date canal and industrial heritage centre in the UK.

Two years ago the Trust received £118,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to plan the project. The Heritage Lottery Fund is now considering an application for funding the first phase, while the second phase is also under preparation for consideration by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The first phase will cost about £2.15million, with the completed project estimated at £3.3million.

The first phase will be a two-level building with the top floor having direct access from the boat trips car park close to the tunnel’s northern Todds End portal, off the Birmingham New Road. A passenger lift would provide direct access from the lower floor to the towpath and passenger embarkation wharf. A swing bridge would also be installed to enable visitors from the Black Country Living Museum on the opposite side of the canal to access the ticket office, trip boats and heritage and learning centre.

The second phase would include an additional exhibition and lecture area adjoining the trip boat embarkation wharf.

At present access is via a sloping footpath from the car park and a narrow pedestrian bridge over the tunnel’s portal to reach the ticket office and boats adjoining the Black Country Living Museum.

The project has been warmly welcomed by Peter Mathews, chairman of the Canal & River Trust’s West Midlands Waterways Partnership, who said: “This project will provide the nation’s inland waterways network with the finest state-of-the-art industrial waterway heritage centre. [It] will be absolutely essential in promoting the area’s unique industrial heritage.”
Project Manager David Trevis Smith said he hoped funding would be secured around April or May. Once that was in place , the building’s design would be finalised and tenders would be invited. Construction could begin in autumn this year with completion in 2014

The Trust is inviting supporters to make donations to the scheme and also to find out more about the project by visiting www.dudleycanaltrust.org.uk

The canal tunnel and limestone mines form part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument with English Heritage describing them as “the best surviving remains of limestone quarrying, mining and processing industry in Dudley.” At the height of the Industrial Revolution, up to 20,000 tonnes of limestone per year were removed by boats for use as flux in local blast furnaces.

Tuesday 8 January  | Andrew Denny  | 11.26am, Tuesday 8 January 2013

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